Physicians’ Perceptions of the Role of the Dental Hygienist in Interprofessional Collaboration: A Pilot Study
The dental hygienist’s role in health care seems to be vastly underestimated. Though dental hygienists provide care that not only promotes oral health but also systemic health, they are underutilized in interprofessional collaborations (IPC). In a pilot study published in March 2020 in the Journal of Interprofessional Care, the authors aim to “determine physicians’ perceptions of the role of the dental hygienist in IPC.”1
Dental hygienists can provide useful information that can promote a patient’s overall health through IPC. They can provide information concerning patients that could lead to the prevention or progression of systemic diseases. Dental hygienists screen for blood pressure abnormalities as well as head, neck, and skin cancer, identify signs of diabetes, and many other systemic diseases related to oral health.
In this study, physicians were given a survey to assess their perception of dental hygienists in the role of IPC. Thirty physicians were given the survey, 18 participated making the response rate 60%. The majority of participants had been practicing for 15 years as a primary physician and were male age 45 and older. Most admitted to regularly seeking oral health care with a dental hygienist and this defined their personal experience with dental hygienists.
Though the respondents had experience with IPC, 55.6% reported: “no experience working with dental hygienists as part of IPC teams and needed more experience working with them.” Though they lack experience working with the dental hygienist in this capacity, all respondents admitted to recognizing improved oral health leads to improved general health. One question posed to the participants asked “to what extent would a dental hygienist add value to your medical practice”, 16.7% reported “a great extent”, 61.1% reported “some extent”, and even after acknowledging that improved oral health leads to improved overall health, 22.2% reported “none.”
Overall this study showed most physicians surveyed recognize dental hygienists play “an important role and bring value to IPC teams.” The biggest obstacles identified by physicians in this study were time constraints and the transfer of data.
In a previous study (Juhl and Stedman, 2016) the authors implemented a hospital-based rotation for dental hygienists. The results indicated, “a hospital-based dental hygiene practice, as part of interprofessional health care, has the potential to improve patient well-being, shorten hospital stays, and provide fiscal savings for patients, institutions, and third-party payers.”
The authors conclude by stating, “This survey provides initial information about physicians’ perceptions of the roles of dental hygienists in IPC. Future research should be conducted using larger populations of physicians and other dental professionals to gain a broader understanding of this subject. Additional studies should examine the roles of dental hygienists working with physicians in a variety of settings and specialties.”
- Luebbers J, Gurenlian J, Freudenthal J. Physicians’ perceptions of the role of the dental hygienist in interprofessional collaboration: a pilot study. J Interprof Care. 2020 Mar 4:1-4. doi: 10.1080/13561820.2020.1711715. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32130056.