Department of Indigenous Health, Center for Rural Health host virtual lecture series for dental providers

The University of North Dakota’s Department of Indigenous Health and Center for Rural Health (CRH) Project ECHO® (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) program have teamed up to host a series of virtual one-hour clinics using the TeleECHO model to train dental providers in North Dakota on addressing primary health care concerns in their offices.

Sponsored by the North Dakota Department of Health’s (NDDoH) Oral Health Program, this UND-led lecture series will kick off in Jan. 2022 and will include early lectures by Dr. Timothy L. Ricks, Rear Admiral, Assistant Surgeon General and Chief Dental Officer with the U.S. Public Health Service, and Dr. Natalia Chalmers, Chief Dental Officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We know that the health of our mouth corresponds to health of our body, but too much of care provision separates the two,” said Shawnda Schroeder, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Indigenous Health, whose team recently completed a clinical series with North Dakota health providers on screening and referral for oral health. “Having the chief dental officers on board to share ideas with our dental teams in North Dakota, providing valuable insight and ideas on how to care for people in our community, is monumental.”

The series will be promoted among dental teams in North Dakota, giving them an opportunity to hear from local providers and members of the state Oral Health Program, which will share lectures and clinical case presentations to illustrate how dental teams in North Dakota serve as a type of primary care provider.

These sessions include free continuing education credits for dental providers.

The Project ECHO model was established in 2003 at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine to develop the capacity to decentralize knowledge and amplify providers’ capacity to offer best practice care for underserved populations. The model does this by utilizing technology and case-based learning to track health data in order to improve outcomes. In North Dakota, the CRH has been serving as the primary state entity to lead Project ECHO locally, training providers on COVID-19 mitigation efforts in nursing homes, hosting pediatric mental health clinics, and addressing opioid use, hypertension, and palliative care.

“The purpose of ECHO’s hub-and-spoke model is to provide specialty education and training to primary care providers and their teams, and to build their capacity to provide high quality care locally for patients with complex health conditions,” said Julie Reiten, project coordinator and lead for Project ECHO in North Dakota. “The Center for Rural Health has coordinated with several ECHO sites to reach and train providers in North Dakota and we know that this model has a direct impact on provider knowledge, and consequently on the quality of care provided to North Dakotans.”

Most recently, Schroeder and Reiten, in partnership with the NDDoH Oral Health Program, hosted a series of clinics focused on improving dental hygiene and oral health outcomes for residents of North Dakota. In the context of Project ECHO, the team will help dental providers learn how to incorporate things like blood pressure screenings and conversations about obesity and diabetes into their clinics.

“We know that there are 28.2 million Americans who visit an oral health professional each year but not a medical provider,” concluded Schroeder. “According to the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, screening for chronic diseases in a dental setting may save $102.6 million each year in health care costs. That’s the value-add of this project for North Dakota. Through these clinics, dental providers in the state will become more aware of the specific health concerns of their patients, especially those who are underserved and under-resourced.”

Learn more about the NDDoH Oral Health Program at www.health.nd.gov/prevention/oral-health-program and more about the Project ECHO program for dentistry as primary care at ruralhealth.und.edu/projects/project-echo/topics/dentistry.