Background & Goal
The connection between oral health and its relation to overall health is a major public health problem that has gone virtually unnoticed in the professional clinical education and practice of nurses, nurse practitioners, midwives, and their interprofessional colleagues. Oral health all too often remains a domain for the professional preparation of dentists and dental hygienists, disconnecting the mouth from the rest of the body as an integral dimension of overall health. Yet data show a high incidence and prevalence of dental caries (cavities), specially in lower socioeconomic and minority group. Adults and children are twice as likely to make at least one visit to an ambulatory care provider in a year as they are to a dentist. This highlights the compelling need to mobilize the nursing workforce to play a critical role in promoting oral health. This will lead to preventing dental disease and avoiding the systemic effects of poor oral health on acute and chronic health problems by integrating it as a required clinical education competency and standard of care.
The Oral Health Nursing Education and Practice (OHNEP) Program is an innovative national initiative led by Executive Director Judith Haber, Program Director Erin Hartnett, and Program Coordinator, Jessamin Cipollina, who have cultivated a national network of faculty, clinicians, and organization champions who advance this critical population health issue, oral health and its links to overall health, in both academic and clinical settings.
The OHNEP Program, a core partner of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health (NIIOH), was funded in 2011 by the DentaQuest and Arcora Foundations, to answer the challenge for all health professions to “view the mouth as a window to the whole body” by linking oral health with overall health (HHS, 2000).
The OHNEP Program reminds faculty, preceptors, students, and clinicians in the nursing profession of the importance of oral health through professional development, curriculum integration, and establishment of best practices in primary, acute, community and long-term care clinical settings so that oral health and its links to overall health is an essential component of comprehensive whole person care (Haber et al., 2015; Interprofessional Education Collaborative, 2016; PCPCC, 2017). The OHNEP Model advocates use of a “weave approach” for integrating oral health into already crowded curricula and clinical practice settings by “weaving” oral health content into existing courses as it relates to a particular course focus. This is an effective strategy to overcome barriers to oral health integration including, but limited to: faculty expertise, competing priorities, and resources (Dolce, Haber, Savageau, Hartnett, & Riedy, 2018; Haber et al., 2019).
The OHNEP team also developed an oral health product in collaboration with GoMo Health. It is an oncology oral care outpatient digital therapeutic that is being integrated into the existing GoMo Health Oncology Digital Therapeutic so that oral health will play an important role in closing the gap in whole person oncology outpatient care.
Evidence of Success
OHNEP website outcome data for 2014-2018 reveal 18,233 users, 56,413 page views, 24,389, sessions, and 6,922 Interprofessional Oral Health Faculty Toolkit page views.
National survey data reveal that more than 50% of the 498 primary care nurse practitioner and midwifery programs nationwide are integrating oral health content and/or clinical experiences in graduate program curricula.