Maria Dolce, an associate professor of nursing in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, learned the importance of improving patient outcomes through team-based care by treating the critically ill for some three decades. “Physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working together, valuing the interprofessional relationships, collaborations, and teamwork—that’s the environment that I grew up in as a new nurse,” said professor Dolce.
So when she heard a story from a cancer patient—one of nearly 500 she was analyzing for her doctoral research—Dolce was astonished: “I had been to the dentist twice with bleeding/swollen gums, and had been to the doctor once with various other symptoms—bruising, persistent cough, a cut that wouldn’t heal,” the patient wrote. “Neither one of these healthcare providers connected the dots or even suggested a blood test.”
For Dolce, this story highlighted two major gaps in the field: educating health professionals about the important relationship between oral and systemic health, and designing integration models of primary care that promote interprofessional collaboration and communication between primary care providers and dentists. This story also illustrated how the mouth is a “mirror” reflecting health and disease in the rest of the body.
Backed by a grant from the DentaQuest Foundation, Dolce is now bridging these gaps with the development of a unique interprofessional educational program called Innovations in Interprofessional Oral Health Care: Technology, Instruction, Practice, and Service, or TIPS.
The program—which aligns with Northeastern’s focus on solving the world’s most complex problems, particularly in the areas of health, security, and sustainability—is part of the university’s broader commitment to improving health through interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships.
“We are very pleased to partner with the DentaQuest Foundation to create a national model for interprofessional education to advance oral healthcare,” said Dolce, whose program will impact both classroom and experiential learning.
TIPS will integrate Smiles for Life, the nation's only comprehensive oral health curriculum, intohealth education across professions as well as implement a team-based, collaborative practice model in primary care settings to promote oral health and prevent disease. Over the long-term, Dolce hopes to disseminate the TIPSprogram to academic centers and primary care practices across the country.
From the beginning, TIPS will aim to fundamentally change the landscape of oral health care by preparing the next generation of healthcare professionals ready to integrate oral health and primary care. “Cultivating students’ collaborative leadership will be a key driver of change,” said Dolce. “Engaging and empowering students to learn about, from and with each other will drive our interprofessional education model and innovations in oral health care.”
“Preparing health professionals with team-based competencies in oral health promotion and disease prevention, and shifting from educating health professionals separately to interprofessional education are imperatives for improving oral health in America,” added Terry Fulmer, dean of Bouvé. “We are excited that Bouvé College will be joining a national movement to put oral health into primary care education and practice under the umbrella of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health” (www.niioh.org).
According to Dolce, the “silent epidemic” of oral diseases is one of healthcare’s greatest challenges. Each year, oral diseases affect millions of children and adults, most of them from the nation’s most vulnerable populations: poor children, pregnant women, older adults, individuals with special health care needs, and racial and ethnic minorities.
Nonetheless, dental disease is very preventable, said Ralph Fuccillo, chief mission officer of DentaQuest and president of the DentaQuest Foundation. “A primary care clinician may be the first and sometimes only health professional to evaluate the oral health of some people. The work of professor Dolce and her Northeastern University colleagues is expanding the role that the health team has to improve oral health,” he explained. “That’s thousands of new eyes ready to identify and help individuals who are at risk for dental disease.”
About Bouvé College of Health Sciences:
The mission of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences is to be the center of excellence in health professional education, research, and service. The structure of the College fosters cross-disciplinary interaction among faculty and students, encourages innovation in the education of both entry level and advanced practice health professionals, and recognizes the autonomy of each profession. The College builds partnerships with health care delivery systems and the community in order to assure that Bouvé students and faculty have access to practice sites that prepare our graduates to meet the healthcare needs of our urban neighbors and society.
About Northeastern University:
Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in worldwide experiential learning, urban engagement, and interdisciplinary research that meets global and societal needs. Our broad mix of experience-based education programs—our signature cooperative education program, as well as student research, service learning, and global learning—build the connections that enable students to transform their lives. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in nine colleges and schools.
About the DentaQuest Foundation:
The DentaQuest Foundation is committed to optimal oral health for all Americans through its support of prevention and access to affordable care, and through its partnerships with funders, policymakers and community leaders. For more information, please visit dentaquestfoundation.org.
For more information please contact Joannie Danielides at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-319-7566.