Integrating oral health into a doctor of nursing practice curriculum

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Nursing


Currently, the United States oral health care delivery system does not reach the populations with the highest need for oral health services, resulting in continued oral health disparities in underserved populations. Incorporating oral health education in the formal education of primary care providers is a strategy to achieve the overall goals of primary health care by improving care for individuals and populations and lowering overall health care costs. The role of nurse practitioners in improving oral health outcomes and expanding access to care is dependent upon the improvement of oral health education in graduate nursing curricula. The purpose of this DNP professional project was to incorporate oral health content into one course in the DNP curriculum and to explore the potential opportunities for expanding oral health education throughout the DNP curriculum. The PDSA Model of Improvement (Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 2017) was utilized to pilot the integration of oral health content into a graduate health assessment course and to review ten DNP courses for oral health content. Graduate students enrolled in the class were surveyed regarding oral health perceptions and experiences. The majority of participants indicated that patients in their agencies had unmet dental needs. Participants reported knowledge of the oral-systemic health connection. Participants indicated that oral health should be included in the overall health assessment of patients and that oral health education should be included in non-dental curricula such as nursing. Student responses were consistent with the literature indicating the most common barriers to implementing oral health in practice were time, lack of oral health education, and lack of referral mechanisms. Although oral health content was noted in nine of the ten DNP courses reviewed, the content was highly variable throughout the courses. Oral health was not a thread throughout the curriculum. There is a need for integration of oral health content in graduate nursing curricula. The first step for developing a nursing workforce with core competencies in oral health promotion is to prepare nurse practitioner students with oral health knowledge, skills, and abilities.




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