Primary care physicians report feeling unprepared for role in prenatal oral health
A new study from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill suggests that primary care physicians may feel under equipped to provide adequate oral health counseling to pregnant women. Poor maternal oral health can have significant impacts on a woman’s overall health and the health of her children.
Gentry Byrd, DDS, and Rocio Quinonez, DMD, MS, MPH, of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry co-authored a paper, published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal that investigates prenatal oral health counseling by primary care physicians. This is the first study to provide national estimates and predictors of their prenatal oral health counseling. The study used data from the 2013 Survey of Primary Care Physicians on Oral Health by the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (US HHS) Office of Women’s Health.
More than 350 primary care physicians across the country who treat pregnant women were surveyed. The authors found that while many primary care physicians addressed prenatal oral health in the form of counseling, and agreed that preventive dental care is very important, just 45% of respondents felt prepared to identify oral health issues and counsel pregnant patients on the importance of oral health.
With more than half of the surveyed primary care physicians saying they feel unprepared to address oral health issues with pregnant patients, this study illustrates the disconnect between prenatal oral health practice guidelines and primary care physician workforce preparedness.
Previous studies suggest there is an increased risk of pre-term birth among pregnant women with periodontal disease. We also know that mothers with untreated cavities and tooth decay have children with twice the likelihood of experiencing cavities and tooth decay with up to twice the severity. While there are many factors that contribute to the development of diseases, good oral health and nutritional practices of mothers may be modeled to their children.
The findings of Byrd and Quinonez’s study are promising. Sixty-nine percent of primary care physicians acknowledged their role in oral health and that they should be able to identify oral health issues in adult patients. The authors’ research also supported the results of a recent national survey, which found a general lack of primary care physician training in oral health. The authors found that primary care physicians who received oral health continuing education had a higher likelihood of counseling pregnant women on oral health than those who did not, suggesting that oral health continuing education is a key component to improving prenatal care.
This research illustrates the growing importance of interprofessional collaboration between health care professions, with a focus on oral health. Oral health content has increased in medical school education within the last decade. For instance, Smiles for Life, a national oral health curriculum, was designed to facilitate the integration of oral health into primary care provider training.