The Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation has awarded the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine $100,000 to start a new pilot program to promote integrated oral health care exams and fluoride varnishing for young children in local doctors’ offices.
“Nearly 35 percent of children in Southwest Virginia do not receive oral health care and prevention treatments, largely due to a lack of dental insurance coverage,” said Cynda Ann Johnson, founding dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “However, many of these children visit a primary care physician regularly, which provides an opportunity to close this gap.”
The two-year program, called Smart Smiles At The Doctor™, will allow medical school faculty to train students, physicians, nurses, and other health care providers at local family medicine and pediatric practices on proper preventive oral health examinations and fluoride application in the younger pediatric population. The grant also aligns with the recommendation by the United States Preventative Task Force that primary care physicians apply fluoride varnish to the primary teeth of all infants and children.
In addition, medical office staff can be trained in coding and insurance billing for these services. Providers also will be informed about places to refer patients, should they spot a potential problem, including organizations that can serve patients who lack dental insurance coverage or have limited income.
“Early intervention for potential problems as well as prevention through varnishing is fundamental for pediatric patients,” said Frank Lucia, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Virginia. “This training for local physicians and nurses will help reach some children who are currently going unnoticed while raising awareness for good oral health practices at an early age.”
Research and practice have revealed a deep connection between oral health and overall health; however, most physicians do not receive training in oral health examinations during medical school and residency.
Over the past eight years, the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, with generous support from the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation, developed an innovative oral health care curriculum.
“After working more than three decades at the hospital, I was amazed at how little physicians knew about the mouth or if they had ever examined the mouth,” said Charles “Bud” Conklin, retired chief of dentistry for Carilion Clinic and associate professor of surgery at VTC School of Medicine. “The goal for the development of this curriculum was to put the mouth back into medical education.”
“We want students to understand the foundational anatomy and structure of the oral cavity and to recognize the importance that this is part of the overall physical exam,” said Richard Vari, senior dean for academic affairs. “Our students become medical professionals who will keep this aspect of medicine at the forefront of their practice – and patients will be better for that.”
The new gift from Delta Dental will enable the school to build on its curricular success.
“We will be able to teach our students more about oral health in a child, how to apply fluoride varnish, and how to model that to their future interprofessional health care teams,” said Tarin Schmidt-Dalton, associate dean for clinical sciences for year one and two and a local family medicine physician. “We want students to graduate from VTCSOM with the skills to lead their medical practice and community in providing oral health care to children all the way up to adulthood. We are thrilled with this additional support.”
The program will be assessed by closing the gaps in the number of medical staff in the region that are trained in the pediatric oral health exam and fluoride varnish application process as well as tracking the total number of children receiving fluoride varnishes. Additional data will be collected through billing and coding patterns, oral health referrals, and community health surveys.
“We hope this program will mean some potential problems will be caught earlier, leading to a higher quality of life for a substantial number of children in our region,” Johnson said. “Beyond the pilot program, we anticipate the training will impact even more patients as physicians and their offices will be able to utilize the new knowledge beyond our targeted population. The partnership between the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation aims to put the mouth back in medicine with physicians and dentists working together to improve quality of life.”
About Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation
Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation was founded by Delta Dental of Virginia to help improve the oral health and, subsequently, overall body health of the people of the commonwealth. The foundation focuses its support on initiatives that improve oral health with sustainable solutions through improved access to oral care, oral health education, or oral health research. For more information, visit the foundation website.