Big Idea: Integrating oral health care with overall health
Dr. Erin Westfall, Mayo Clinic Health System (left), and Brigette Cooper, professor and chair of the Department of Dental Education.
Dental hygiene students at Minnesota State University, Mankato are helping pilot a new project that integrates oral health care into well-child visits.
The pilot, taking place at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, gives families the option of receiving an oral health screening and treatment from Minnesota State Mankato’s dental hygiene students as part of the visit.
Brigette Cooper, professor and chair of the Department of Dental Education at Minnesota State Mankato, said this unique project makes sense because oral health is among the top chronic diseases in children. Cavities, which are preventable, are considered an infectious disease, and untreated dental care has been linked to stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
“The intent of this program is to treat children who may not otherwise be seen and make a difference in these children’s oral health,” Cooper said.
Funded in part by Delta Dental of Minnesota and the Mankato Area Foundation, the pilot works like this: Dental hygiene students are available during certain times at the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Department at Mayo Clinic Health System ‒ Eastridge. Those families who come in for a well-child visit are given the option for an oral health care screening.
For those families who choose to do so, student hygienists—supervised by trained faculty—are able to identify if the child could benefit from basic oral health care such as fluoride treatments, sealants or other preventative measures and receive care on the spot.
In the first few months of the pilot, the program treated more than 200 children, ages six months to 17 years old. “We are also able to educate the parents, which has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the program,” Cooper said.
New concept, new opportunities
Dr. Erin Westfall, D.O., a family physician with Mayo Clinic Health System, said the integration helps families, but also helps dental hygiene students shift from thinking about only oral health to looking at the patient as a whole.
“I hope this program helps students understand the immense role oral health has in whole person health,” Westfall said. “And, I’m hopeful that training students in this model will prepare them for the future of dentistry and shared delivery models.”
Cooper said most of her students haven’t thought about this type of partnership before and that this program is helping them see themselves working in a different setting, realizing additional career opportunities.
“This is the beginning of a movement and a very unique program in higher education,” Cooper said. “We know it can make a huge difference in the well-being of a child and are happy to help provide this opportunity to students and the community.”