October 07, 2010

CWRU Dental Student Research Earns Honors

Jennifer Sanders

Going to the dentist is a challenge when you have a toothache and don’t have access to a dentist.   Midlevel dental providers could play a role in easing that pain, according to Jennifer Sanders, a third-year Case Western Reserve University dental student.

Access to dental care continues to be a major public health problem. One way to solve this problem might be to use dental therapists and advanced dental hygienist practitioners; both midlevel providers are types of dental professionals but are not used in Ohio.

Sanders was curious about how aware local dental hygienists in Cuyahoga County are of different roles and functions that dental therapists, advance dental hygiene practitioners (ADHP) and Expanded Functions Dental Assistants (EFDA) have.

Her findings earned honors.

She will receive the Pre-Professional Jong Award from the Oral Health Section of the America Public Health Association in Denver in November during the APHA’s annual meeting.

Sanders’ study asked questions about roles of auxiliaries and midlevel providers:

  • EFDA, who undertakes eight months of additional training after becoming dental assistants.
  • ADHP, who has two years of advanced training, after becoming dental hygienists.
  • Dental therapist, who has two years of training.

Some of these midlevel providers, such as ADHP and dental therapists, can extract certain teeth and do other dental functions to remedy oral health problems.

According to Sanders, who is from the Canadian province of Alberta, dental therapists  can provide onsite dental care by communicating with dentists at other locations.

She added Alaska has dental therapists already in place and Minnesota has legislation pending about the use of dental therapists and will soon be training Advanced Dental Hygienist Practitioners.  Both states have large remote areas where people are distant from urban areas and dentists.

“Midlevel providers would be a cost-effective model in providing dental care to underserved populations,” said Sena Narendran, associate professor of community dentistry at Case Western Reserve. “Given the recent impetus for creating midlevel dental providers in different states, this research is very timely.”

He added that in the medical care settings, midlevel provider concept like nurse practitioner and physician assistant is very well established. 

“Because of the poor access to dental care, there is a need for more midlevel providers in dentistry,” he said.

“For a patient who is hundreds of miles from a dentist in a town or urban area, the dental therapist can help the patient with assistance and support from the dentist miles away,” Sanders said.

She added, “Dental therapists, which are widely used in New Zealand, Canada and Australia, can be one solution to access to dental care.”

The aspiring dentist sent out 600 surveys to local dental hygienists and received 158 responses.

The major finding is that many dental hygienists are not well-informed of the roles of the dental therapist or the ADHP.  They are aware of the EFDA’s role.

“This is an important finding,” Sanders said. 

She calls for more education to raise awareness of these roles as more states move to improve access to dental care and allow these midlevel providers to practice.

The research project was conducted during Sanders’ first and second year at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. Dental students are encouraged to do a research project during this free summer, the only summer when they do not work in the dental school’s clinics.  The dental school supported the summer research project.

Posted by: David Wilson, October 7, 2010 08:56 AM | News Topics:

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