Clinical Scholars team will collaborate to improve oral health

Emory NursingSeptember 29, 2016
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The new Clinical Scholars national leadership program has selected three clinicians at Emory and Grady Health System as part of its first cohort of 30 innovators to collaborate on tackling pressing health problems from every angle.

The Clinical Scholars program is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill withsupport from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The program prepares health care providers and practitioners to expand their influence beyond the hospital or clinic to advance a Culture of Health — one that places well-being at the center of every aspect of life. The program recognizes that improving health and reducing persistent disparities in wellness and longevity across the United States requires clinical innovation and community transformation.

The Georgia project – one of eight Clinical Scholars projects in the nation, is focused on "The Burden of Poor Oral Health in Georgia." The three scholars are:

  • Hope Bussenius, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, Emory University, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing
  • Charles Moore, MD, Emory University School of Medicine
  • David Reznik, DDS, Grady Health System and Emory University School of Medicine

Bussenius, Moore, and Reznik have been working to alleviate severe health disparities on Atlanta’s northwest side for many years. Finding ways to improve oral health in low-income communities is essential to good health and helping individuals move from poverty to middle class status. It requires an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort of a diverse array of health care workers.

The project proposes four health outcomes:

  • Improve oral health and access to dental care in low-income populations
  • Reduce healthcare cost
  • Reduce days missed from school and work
  • Improve oral health outcomes when cancer is present

According to the team’s proposal, poor oral health in low-income communities causes many burdens on children and adults alike, with a wide disparity in untreated tooth decay and restricted activity days. Frequently cited barriers to improving dental health disparities and achieving target outcomes include low Medicaid reimbursement rates, unwillingness of dentists to participate in Medicaid, a shortage of dentists, unresolved oral health literacy concerns, costs of care, and a lack of transportation to and from a dental office. These barriers contribute to a lack of access to dental care in low-income neighborhoods and can prevent families from improving their low-income status.

Poor oral health, say the scholars, can lead to unnecessary tooth decay, periodontal disease, plaque buildup, pain, infection, and even the quiet and deadly advancement of oral cancer. It also leads to unnecessary and expensive visits to the Emergency Department to treat pain of tooth decay and periodontal disease but not the causal conditions.

Project targets include:

  • Increasing the availability of low-cost dental care through the HEALing Community Center at Atlanta’s Neighborhood Union through an oral health program that began in August and has the capacity to provide 10,000 visits per year.
  • Training school nurses and nurse practitioners who work in neighborhood schools to do an oral exam, provide oral home care instructions, place sealants, and show students how to use fluoride rinse.
  • Advocating for Georgia state law changes that would increase access to dental care for low-income families.

The Morehouse School of Medicine Public Health Program will provide data analysis techniques for the project.

The Clinical Scholars nationally represent a diverse range of disciplines, including nursing, audiology, pharmacy, and social work. Through the program, they will receive funding to work in cross-functional teams on projects that address top-of-mind issues in health and equity, including addiction, community violence, transgender health, poor oral health in rural areas, behavioral health in immigrant communities, and integrative mental health.

Along the way they will develop high-level leadership skills through professional coaching, mentoring, networking and an advanced curriculum.

Selected through a competitive process that drew many applications, participants receive a stipend to support their participation and their projects. They will continue working full-time in their home communities and apply their new knowledge and leadership in their careers.

Applications for the next class of Clinical Scholars will open in January 2017. For additional information please visit www.clinical-scholars.org