UCSF dental students teach medical students oral health techniques

Dental students at the UCSF School of Dentistry are now teaching medical students about oral health. This interprofessional activity is aimed at aligning the curriculum with the national guidelines set by the Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to expand the oral health clinical competency of primary care clinicians.

UCSF dental students are guiding medical students on how to incorporate oral health into the traditional head, eye, ear, nose and throat exam. To accomplish this, senior dental students teach first-year medical students about oral health and how to perform screening exams and fluoride varnish applications.

"So often we practice in silos, but programs like these are the future of dental and medical education and practice," said Susan Hyde, DDS, MPH, PhD, associate professor of clinical preventive and restorative dental sciences at the UCSF School of Dentistry.

What's particularly unique about this program is that students created it. The idea of including oral health in the medical curriculum began in 2014 with the grassroots efforts of Walid Hamud-Ahmed, a UCSF medical student who sent out a short survey to his classmates to evaluate their knowledge of and interest in oral health. Positive responses from the survey led to dental student Jean Calvo and her mentor, Susan Hyde, working together to develop, implement and evaluate the new oral health curriculum.

Hyde thought it was a great idea, and by 2015, oral health training was a requirement for medical students and the first program was launched. First-year medical students watched an online video the night before the hands-on portion of the training. In the video, two demonstrations, one on how to give an oral exam and another on how to apply fluoride varnish, were presented. The following day, the 155 medical students performed each procedure on each other under the supervision of eight senior dental students and eight dental faculty members.

"All of the participants had a wonderful time; I think it was a really good experience and a good opportunity for the dental students to teach and share their expertise," Calvo said. "This was student-led and student-taught … it is one of my favorite things I have experienced in dental school."

Hyde, who is responsible for developing collaborative practice opportunities at UCSF on behalf of the School of Dentistry, said the response from both the medical students and dental students was positive.

"In a post-presentation survey, the medical students said their level of comfort and confidence in performing an oral exam and  fluoride varnish application had increased tremendously and that they had a much better understanding of the correlation between oral health and systemic health," Hyde said.

Heather E. Nye, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF, said the program is a great first step in bridging the gap between dental and medical education.

"It's incredibly valuable. There is a historical deficit in oral health training in medical education. We have not been delivering that kind of curriculum by any stretch," Nye said. "While there has been awareness of this gap,  it really took the interprofessional education movement to spawn enough collective interest in both schools and motivate students and faculty to make it happen."

The program was so successful that the UCSF School of Nursing is interested in creating a similar program with the dental students. In addition, discussions are underway between leadership from the School of Dentistry and the School of Pharmacy for ways to further incorporate interprofessional clinical training between the two schools.

Nye credits the enthusiasm about the program to the fact that it was created by students for students.

"Learning from your contemporaries in other schools is delightful … students have a way of relating to other students," Nye said.

To learn more about this program, visit interprofessional.ucsf.edu.

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