Ann Arbor, MI — July 1, 2015 — Two University of Michigan School of Dentistry dental hygiene faculty members recently won first- and third-place Best Paper awards during the American Dental Hygienists’ Association’s recent annual session in Nashville, Tennessee. The award celebrates the best research papers published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene during the previous year.
Treatments for Breast Cancer Patients a Challenge
Dr. Susan Taichman, an assistant professor, won a first-place award for her study which appeared in the April issue. Her research revealed that changes in clinical guidelines associated with breast cancer therapy present challenges to many dental hygienists as they provide oral health care to those patients.
“I focused on exploring whether there is a gap in knowledge among dental hygienists about possible oral complications from breast cancer treatments, as well as what professional practices they use when treating breast cancer patients,” Taichman said. She mailed a questionnaire to about 10 percent of the 9,620 licensed dental hygienists in Michigan.
Surprised by Results
Taichman was surprised with what she learned. “More than 70 percent of the dental hygienists who responded felt they needed additional training about recommended clinical guidelines,” Taichman said. “They specifically lacked knowledge about frequently prescribed anti-estrogen medications for pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer patients.” Only 13 percent of the dental hygienists surveyed correctly identified the effects of anti-estrogen therapy when providing oral health care to breast cancer patients. Fewer than 10 percent believe their knowledge of the subject is up to date.
Key oral health issues breast cancer patients face, she said, are oral/pharyngeal mucositis, xerostomia and an increased risk of dental caries and oral infections as a result of chemotherapy-induced immune suppression. Taichman said that during anti-estrogen therapy, breast cancer patients are at an increased risk for gingival bleeding, periodontal diseases, tooth loss, osteonecrosis and burning mouth syndrome.
“The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has published guidelines to assist health care providers when caring for these patients,” she said. “However, clinical guidelines for oral care are lacking related to anti-estrogen therapies.”
Taichman said results of the study show a need for more education about the oral side effects of breast cancer therapies and how to provide the best possible care for patients being treated for breast cancer. BreastCancer.Org estimates that more than 231,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. this year.
Mid-Level Dental Practitioners
Anne Gwozdek, clinical assistant professor, won a third-place award for her paper about Minnesota’s mid-level dental practitioners. Her paper detailed how Minnesota’s Dental Therapist Law, enacted in 2009, became the first in the nation to result in a new dental professional workforce model to address the issue of access to oral health care. A mid-level practitioner is a health care worker who collaborates with a dentist to provide basic preventive and restorative services to patients.
“The paper was meant to help those in states who might be interested in pursuing this type of legislation better understand how much work will be needed to develop a mid-level dental practitioner law,” Gwozdek said. “Through partnerships and compromise, advocates of mid-level dental practitioners were able to open the policy window, move this legislation to law and help enhance the oral health care worker force and access to care in that state.”
Gwozdek's article was co-authored with School of Social Work colleagues Luke Shaefer and Renee Tetrick and appeared in last October’s issue of the Journal of Dental Hygiene.