Dental hygienists' knowledge and opinions of oral-systemic connections: implications for education

Kathryn P Bell, Ceib Phillips, David W Paquette, Steven Offenbacher, Rebecca S Wilder
Journal of Dental Education 2012, 76 (6): 682-94
Although associations between periodontal and systemic health have been well established, there is little evidence regarding dental hygienists' knowledge of the oral-systemic connection. The purpose of this study was to determine the knowledge levels of North Carolina dental hygienists regarding oral-systemic connections and their attitudes and confidence about incorporating this knowledge into clinical practice. A survey was developed, pilot tested, revised, and mailed to 1,665 licensed dental hygienists in North Carolina. After three mailings, the response rate was 62 percent, with 52 percent (N=859) meeting the inclusion criteria. The majority (>80 percent) of the respondents correctly identified risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), but were less knowledgeable about risk factors for osteoporosis and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Most knew that there is strong evidence linking periodontal disease with CVD (77 percent) and diabetes (70 percent). The majority felt that dental hygienists should be trained to identify risk factors for oral-systemic disease (94 percent) and to actively manage patients with systemic disease (78 percent). Eighty-eight percent felt that dental and medical professionals should be taught to practice collaboratively. These dental hygienists had a high level of knowledge in some areas of oral-systemic disease but could improve their confidence levels and knowledge through expanded content in their educational programs and continuing education. Inter-professional education and collaboration would also assist in integration of knowledge into clinical practice.

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