A nursing grant of more than $1 million has been awarded the University at Buffalo School of Nursing to train nurse practitioners to work in dental care with students at the UB School of Dental Medicine.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant of $1,120,953, which will be spread over three years, will allow the nurses to gain experience in interdisciplinary teams whose goal is to improve the quality of oral health.
The training is a response to the Institute of Medicine's goal to increase educational programs that include interprofessional and collaborative experiences among healthcare providers.
"Coincidentally, in our two schools - UB nursing and dental medicine - we were already discussing the increasingly compelling evidence regarding the connection between lifestyle and pathophysiological factors such as oral health, dental disease and multiple chronic conditions," said Nancy Campbell-Heider, Ph.D., who chairs the university's graduate nursing department and the doctor of nursing practice program. "Our discussions ultimately led to the partnership between the two schools that underscore this grant. Working with dentists and dental students will be a new venture."
Nurse practitioner role expands
Nurse practitioners are among the growing ranks of medical workers who are taking on new responsibilities in part to make up for the lack of family doctors throughout the U.S. According to the journal Health Affairs, many states have passed laws to allow nurse practitioners to perform many medical services that were previously conducted only by physicians. They participate in a wide range of preventive and acute healthcare services.
At UB, which is part of the State University of New York system, nurse practitioners until now have only worked with doctors, not members of the dental school.
Receiving the HRSA Advanced Nursing Education Training Grant offers the School of Nursing a great opportunity to collaborate with the School of Dental Medicine," said Marsha Lewis, Ph.D., dean of the UB nursing school. "We are excited to join our colleagues in dental medicine to improve health and wellness in the community."
The collaboration may remove some of the obstacles that people face in obtaining oral health services. The high cost of premiums prevent many people from purchasing dental insurance and can lead families to go without basic dental care. One alternative available to them is a discount dental plan that covers many dentistry services at greatly reduced prices.
Addressing dental and medical health
Lack of dental work can lead to tooth decay and gum disease can cause inflammation that aggravates other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. According to the American Dental Association, bacteria that enters the mouth through untended dental problems can spread throughout the body.
In addition to a well-known link to diabetes, dental problems may be an indication of nutritional deficiencies, blood disorders, impaired immunity and bacterial pneumonia. Periodontitis, the most severe level of gum disease, also increases the risk of a pregnant woman delivering a baby prematurely or a full-term baby that has a low birth weight.
Although the American Heart Association has found the link between dental health and heart disease to be inconclusive, the association continues to advise people to take care of their dental health as part of a heart-healthy regimen to reduce the risk of infections that may affect the heart. The UB initiative is part of that movement.
"Just as today's dental students are being prepared to assess their patients beyond the mouth - such as elevated blood pressure and diabetes - advanced practice nurses will be expected to assess early signs of periodontal disease in adults and or apply fluoride varnish to children who lack dental care," said Campbell-Heider.
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