The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and Delta Dental of Arizona are partnering to create the Oral Health In Medicine Initiative (OHMI). The partnership – made through a $850,000 investment by the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation – will increase oral health education for all medical students at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and is expected to launch in the 2024-2025 academic year, which commences in July.
For vulnerable and underserved populations, medical care is often sought for acute care. Lack of access to financial means, nutritious foods and preventive care or unmanaged health conditions can cause patients to delay care until their disease has reached an advanced stage.
“Medical-Dental Integration drives positive health outcomes in vulnerable populations, such as at-risk children, pregnant women, seniors, and those in need of chronic disease management,” said Michael Jones, president and chief executive officer of Delta Dental of Arizona. “Delta Dental of Arizona is a long-time advocate of increasing communication between dental and medical providers to reduce barriers to care. By integrating oral health curriculum into medical education, the graduating physicians will be better equipped to address health disparities and understand the connection between oral health to overall health, thereby improving the health and wellness of their patients and our communities.”
The OHMI program is intended to give physicians the knowledge to recognize that the mouth can be a window to underlying health issues and the vocabulary to communicate effectively with their dental colleagues.
“Physicians can have a significant impact on patient outcomes, especially for vulnerable and underserved populations, through oral screening evaluations, patient counseling and early intervention,” said Irene Alexandraki, MD, PhD, MPH, senior associate dean of Undergraduate Medical Education at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and co-primary investigator.
The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and Delta Dental of Arizona are partnering with Harvard University Schools of Medicine’s Center for Integration of Primary Care and Oral Health to develop a comprehensive curriculum that will be integrated across all four years of medical students’ training. The program will be two-fold, offering both classroom instruction and hands-on training during student clerkships, providing real-world experience with patients in an authentic clinical dental setting.
Leah Hillier, MD, is a clinical assistant professor and director of service learning at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. Dr. Hillier also serves as the co-primary investigator of the OHMI program.
“So often our patients cannot access dental care due to financial limitations and/or lack of insurance. And physicians are inadequately skilled to complete basic oral health assessment connected to how oral health impacts medical conditions,” said Dr. Hillier.
According to the 2023 Delta Dental of Arizona Adult Oral Health Survey, while most Arizonans (77%) understand the direct connection between oral health and overall health in general, Baby Boomers are less likely than other generations to know of the connection oral health has to dementia, kidney disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory health.
“We estimate that upon completion of the program, UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix graduates will be able to make a positive impact on up to 180,000 patients per class, per year,” said Barb Kozuh, executive director of the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation.
“Delta Dental of Arizona, whose mission is to create a better path to health and wellness, believes that including oral health curriculum in medical schools will provide medical students a greater breadth of oral health knowledge, and will improve the quality of life for patients – especially those with chronic diseases. I also believe that integrating these two care components will ultimately reduce healthcare costs over the long run,” said Jones.
“We are excited to have found a partner in Delta Dental who shares our commitment to improving the health of our community through innovative and holistic approaches to patient care,” said Fredric Wondisford, MD, MS, MBA, dean of the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. “We hope the Oral Health in Medicine Initiative will set a new standard for interprofessional collaboration to promote oral health and encourage preventive care.”