Dental Hygienists in Research

Dental Research

I work with a team in community research. Our team goes out to subsidized housing and treats participants 62 and older with at least one tooth. That is the criteria to be accepted into the study: 62 and older, with at least one tooth. We had a patient the other day that had only one tooth with several carious lesions. We treated the tooth and he cried when he hobbled away, thankful that we were there to treat his tooth.

Many heartfelt moments occur in our days in the field; participants are grateful for the work we are doing, and so are we. Our study is centered on dental hygienists going out into the community and treating caries on older adults.

The significance of our study

  • Conventional restorative treatments do not work for older adults.
    • The dental treatment needs of older adults differ from those of younger adults due to age related changes to enamel, dentin, and pulp chamber
  • Limited insurance options call for treatment strategies which are simpler and less expensive
    • The current U.S. health care system does not provide comprehensive dental care.
    • Medicare excludes dental care.
    • 74% of the Medicare beneficiaries do not receive dental care annually.
  • There are no studies of community-based care for older adults.
    • Comparative effectiveness studies of the treatments are needed to inform and establish a standard of care for older adults.
  • This clinical study can be used to establish a standard of care for low-income adults.
    • Cost-effectiveness (Sodium Diamine Fluoride and A-Traumatic Restorative Treatment do not require the use of a conventional dental drill and are less costly materials).
    • Both interventions are FDA approved.
    • Dental hygienists can deliver care in the housing facility/community.

Our team is comprised of 4 dental hygienists, 2 dentists and several research staff members. We use the International Caries Detection and Assessment System (ICDAS). Using only air, a ball tipped probe and our vision we detect carious lesions using codes from 0-6. It is important to note that the use of a sharp explorer is not necessary because no additional accuracy is provided and it may damage the enamel surface covering the early carious lesions. Nor do we use radiographs.

The fun part about this job is that it feels like a MASH unit. We have a portable chair, water and suction unit, light and chair, and several other necessities. We go out into the field and help those people with health disparities. As a dental hygienist I love being part of this study. Dental hygienists are highly trained professionals that are frequently underutilized; we can do more than scale subgingivally.

In this study, the ultimate goal is to determine if dental hygienists can go out into the field and seal and heal, rather than drill and fill. What a concept.

Due to the unprecedented time in our country’s history our team has been halted until further notice. Stay well everyone and remember to be kind to one another. In these times, kindness goes a long way.

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