Smiles for Life in Kentucky: A National Oral Health Curriculum

KOHC 1Has your child’s pediatrician ever looked at your child’s teeth or gums? If you have ever been pregnant, did your OB/GYN talk to you about your oral health? If you are a physician, do you shy away from talking about oral health with your patients, because it is not your role? School nurses, do you include oral health in your continuum of care in your school?

As a part of Kentucky’s 2014 Oral Health Literacy campaign, the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition (KOHC) and other stakeholders seek to bring oral health literacy to all of Kentucky’s health professionals in the next two years. We will be partnering with pediatricians, nurses, family physicians, primary care centers, ob/gyns and others to offer a free online CEU on oral health.

KOHC will also partner with Smiles for Life national steering committee members, managed care organizations, continuing education portals, and universities to develop and implement an outreach strategy to increase the number of health professionals who complete the Smiles for Life online curriculum. We will promote and distribute an inter-professional continuing education unit created by Smiles for Life on oral health literacy. Additionally, medical students will be encouraged to incorporate oral health literacy as they begin their practice. The goal is to re-frame the partnership between dental professionals and other health professionals by treating the patient as a whole being.

KOHC 2The Smiles for Life curriculum was developed in 2005 by the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. The original goal of the program was to provide educational resources to improve the oral health knowledge of physicians training in family medicine residency programs. These education efforts proved to be successful. The program has been revised several times to include additional components such as fluoride varnish, oral health during pregnancy, oral examinations, and geriatric oral health. The Smiles for Life curriculum is the most comprehensive and widely used oral health curriculum available online to health professionals.

Since the site’s launch in 2010, almost 200,000 health professionals visited the site.  Last year alone, almost 24,000 online courses were completed for continuing education credit from all across the country. Commonly completed classes include those on children’s oral health, applying fluoride varnish and the oral exam.  Nurses were the most common users of the site at 32%, with physicians and physician assistants both 21% each, and finally dentistry at 10%. KOHC will work with the national site administrators to measure the state’s utilization rates of the Smiles for Life Curriculum by Kentucky health professionals.

Many Kentucky residents experience pain in their mouth on a daily basis. It is time that all health professionals work together and treat the whole individual, and begin to bridge the gap between oral and systemic health. Increasing the number providers who are aware of this hidden epidemic will allow more individuals to get the care they need and allow them to resume their lives.

If you are interested in helping with this effort, please contact Mahak Kalra at the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition at mkalra@kyyouth.org.

KOHC is a project of Kentucky Youth Advocates. For more information, go to http://www.kyoralhealthcoalition.org.

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