by Christine Nathe, RDH,
Another oral health report was recently published, this one focusing on a workshop regarding the dental workforce. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is part of the National Academy of Science, published the workshop summary.
The IOM provides a service by working outside the framework of government to ensure scientifically informed analysis and independent guidance. The IOM mission is to serve as advisor to the nation to improve health. The Institute strives to provide unbiased, evidence-based, authoritative information and advice concerning health and science to policy makers, professionals, leaders in all sectors of society, and the public at large.
The workshop, hosted by the IOM in Feb. 2009, was jointly sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation and the Health Resources and Services Administration. It asked:
- What is the current status of access to oral health services?
- Which workforce strategies hold promise to improve access?
- How can stakeholders improve the regulations and structure of oral health care delivery to improve access?
A summary of the workshop, called The U.S. Oral Health Workforce in the Coming Decade, states that the current oral health workforce fails to meet the needs of many segments of the U.S. population.
Oral health experts and researchers led the IOM and discussed the following challenges:
- A lack of coordination and integration among the oral health, public health, and medical health care systems
- Misaligned payment and education systems that focus on the treatment of disease rather than prevention
- The lack of a robust evidence base for many dental procedures and workforce models
- Regulatory barriers that prevent exploring alternative models of care
Interestingly, many of these challenges can be addressed by the dental hygiene profession. A report entitled The Professional Practice Environment of Dental Hygienists in the Fifty States and the District of Columbia was conducted by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University at Albany and funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
The report suggests that dental hygienists have demonstrated their clinical ability to contribute to quality patient care and improved access to care. Over the past decade, virtually every state has expanded the legal scope of practice of dental hygienists.
Additionally, the report suggests that although dental hygienists have made progress in numbers and roles, more steps can be taken to align the dental hygiene scope of practice with demonstrated skills, and more autonomy for dental hygienists would promote better access to basic preventive care in many areas of the country.
These are just two of the many reports recently published that suggest the need for change in dental care delivery. The reports also address what we have known for some time — dental hygienists are skilled to provide badly needed preventive care to everyone, in all settings. Additionally, dental hygienists are qualified to manage dental care and serve as advocates to patients. We need to use these report findings as references. The momentum is building and we need to strive to make changes to improve the oral health of those in need.
Note: For more information on the IOM report, go to http://www.iom.edu/CMS/AboutIOM.aspx, and go to http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/reports/hygienists/dh1.htm for the Dental Hygiene Practice report.
About the Author
Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “:Dental Public Health” (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.