The Role of Oral Healthcare Providers in Interprofessional Collaborative Practice

For decades, oral healthcare providers have been playing an important role on Interprofessional collaborative teams. One of the salient examples, is in the area of cleft lip and cleft palate where a team of oral health, health, and social care providers and others have been working together to coordinate care for this group of patients with complex needs that could only be addressed by an interprofessional team. More recently, oral healthcare providers have been valuable members of interprofessional teams in the treatment of chronic pain patients because of our work in temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and sleep medicine.

Our role as a team member with other professionals continues to be in demand as more medical conditions are linked to oral health. The CDC has predicted the number of patients who will be diagnosed with diabetes will double or triple by 2050.34 This will necessitate more oral healthcare providers be prepared to manage these patients because of the impact on oral health. Several studies have demonstrated diabetes is a risk factor for the development of periodontal disease and patients in certain populations have more severe periodontal disease.35-37 These patients could be better managed when we collaborate as an interprofessional team viewing the disease process from a dental, medical, pharmacotherapeutic and mental health management standpoint. Therefore, oral health care providers would become an important source for screening these patients and helping to provide a reciprocal referral base between oral healthcare and other health professionals.

As the number of individuals being diagnosed with chronic renal failure increases, there is an increased probability oral health professionals will care for these patients.38 In addition, one of the most common causes for chronic renal failure is chronic hypertension, which can be easily monitored by oral health professionals. One advantage dentists have is patients routinely have visits, and this affords the provider with an opportunity to monitor patients’ blood pressure over an extended period of time. As oral health professionals observe patients having higher than normal blood pressure, or higher blood pressure readings in spite of medication, it would then be appropriate to counsel the patient and communicate with other members of the patient’s team. Therefore, oral healthcare providers can play a significant role in screening patients for certain primary care metrics and it was found that dentist were willing to incorporate screening in their practices.14,39

In addition, oral healthcare providers treat a large population of patients that have mental health conditions and chronic pain patients who are taking medications that can cause xerostomia, which increases gingival inflammation and increase caries rates. Newly diagnosed patients with mental health conditions and some chronic pain patients would benefit from referral to an oral healthcare provider as many of the common medications prescribed for management of these disease processes have xerostomia as a side effect.40 A dialogue with other healthcare colleagues about the impact of medications on the management of oral health and a referral would allow for these patients to be evaluated and a have a customized care plan that might include fluoride therapy, recommendation for products that help lubricate that teeth and soft tissues.

Other examples of collaboration have occurred to advocate for early childhood dental visits. This initiative has also contributed to a partnership between obstetrics and gynecology and oral healthcare providers. At Rice Memorial Dental clinic in Willmar, Minnesota, mothers who have recently given birth receive dental education, along with obstetrics and gynecological services while still in the OB ward at Rice Memorial Hospital (Renee Johnson, personal communication, May 18, 2016). Dental hygienists or other dental clinic staff establish a relationship with the new mothers, provide infant oral health education, answer questions and have them complete an information card, and then mail the family a 1st birthday card as a reminder for them to schedule the early childhood dental visit by age 1. This highlights the opportunity to not only discuss good oral healthcare practice after pregnancy to minimize periodontal diseases, but to also help prevent caries the most common chronic childhood disease.41