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The next step in incorporating dental professionals into the interdisciplinary health-care team

May 27, 2021
Interdisciplinary education has been a part of dental curriculum since 2013. So why does this gap persist?

by Joy McCarthy, MS, RDH

The oral-systemic link has been a topic of conversation in health care since the start of the century. Incorporating the dental professional into the interdisciplinary health-care team is the key to quality healthcare. The human body is an interconnected web of different systems; the health-care providers to that body should also act as an interconnected web of knowledge and skills.

In 2000, the U.S Surgeon General nationally announced that that, “oral health is integral to general health.”1 Since then, numerous efforts have been made to minimize the gap between medical and dental professionals. In 2013, dental curriculums across the nation incorporated interdisciplinary education into their programs as the Commission of Dental Accreditation (CODA) released the 2013 CODA Standard 2-19,2 requiring graduates to demonstrate competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice.

As graduates now have the foundation necessary for interdisciplinary practice, why does the gap between medical and dental professionals still remain? What’s next in this journey towards an interdisciplinary healthcare system?

If you disagree that this gap still exists, consider the following: why are hygienists still dismissing patients from dental prophylaxis appointments because they were unaware of their antibiotic premedication? Why do people need separate insurance plans for dental care and medical care? Why are we still putting our sole trust into the patient’s word that there are no changes to their medical history, rather than communicating directly with their primary-care physician ourselves?

Incorporating interprofessional education into health care curriculums cannot be the sole endeavor to achieve sustainable interdisciplinary health care collaboration. Without providing students with continued support after graduation, these interdisciplinary competencies become dead ends. Efforts must now focus on transferring the students’ interprofessional knowledge from school into real-world clinical practice after graduation.

So what’s the next step in accomplishing this? Interdisciplinary continuing education courses. As interdisciplinary courses have been piloted in-person, numerous studies have identified time, money, scheduling conflicts,2 and physical location3 as major limitations to sustained learning. Luckily, the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed a new era of online education, which could provide a solution with its affordability, equitability, flexibility, and convenience. As research efforts continue to investigate effective instructional strategies for online education, some studies have shown that a team-based learning format is the most effective and engaging for adult learners.4,5

I hope to inspire all dental educators to design their courses to target an interdisciplinary population of people, and I encourage all health care professionals to register for an interdisciplinary CEU course. The American Academy of Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH) serves as a great resource for both medical and dental professionals as their mission strives to revolutionize interdisciplinary health care. AAOSH educates a variety of health care disciplines as they host webinars, schedule meetings, publish research, and offer interdisciplinary continuing education courses with both CEU and CME courses.


1.  2000 Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. July 2000. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/research/data-statistics/surgeon-general

2.  Palatta A, Cook BJ, Anderson EL, Valachovic RW. 20 Years Beyond the Crossroads: The Path to Interprofessional Education at U.S. Dental Schools. J Dent Educ. 2015 Aug;79(8):982-96. Accessed May 14, 2021. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

3.  Mowat S, Hein C, Walsh T, MacDonald L, Grymonpre R, Sisler J. Changing Health Professionals' Attitudes and Practice Behaviors Through Interprofessional Continuing Education in Oral-Systemic Health. J Dent Educ. 2017;81(12):1421-1429. doi: 10.21815/JDE.017.102

4.  Jones TA, Vidal G, Taylor C. Interprofessional education during the COVID-19 pandemic: finding the good in a bad situation. J Interprof Care. 2020 Sep;34(5):633-646. doi: 10.1080/13561820.2020.1801614

5.  Burgess A, van Diggele C, Matar E. Interprofessional Team-based Learning: Building Social Capital. J Med Educ Curric Dev. 2020 Aug 7;7:2382120520941820. doi: 10.1177/2382120520941820

Joy McCarthy, MS, RDH, has been practicing in the state of Massachusetts for five years. In private practice, she continually advocates for the oral-systemic link as she treats her patients wholeheartedly. Joy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of New England in Portland, ME in 2016, and in May 2021, earned her master’s degree in health-care education from St. Joseph’s College of Maine, which provided her with the support necessary to further advocate for the inclusion of dental professionals in the interdisciplinary health-care team. For more information, email her at [email protected].