Training Dental Hygiene Students to Care for Patients with Disabilities

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Journal of Dental Hygiene


Purpose The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of a novel training program on dental hygiene students’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about caring for individuals with disabilities. Methods A mixed methods approach was used. Students from five dental hygiene programs based at community colleges completed a two-hour didactic training session to supplement their existing special care dentistry coursework. Students completed an original 14-item pretest and posttest before and after the training that assessed attitudes and beliefs, and two validated posttests that assessed knowledge. Afterwards, students completed a clinical rotation in an advanced care dental clinic at a local academic institution gaining hands-on experience with equipment and patient treatment. Descriptive statistics were used to report training scores, types of services rendered and modifications to treatment. Student comments about their experiences were assessed using thematic analysis. Results Two hundred and ninety-four students completed didactic training and 261 completed clinical rotations. Posttest scores indicated positive improvements in knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. All students provided direct patient care. Sixty-nine percent treated patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities; 75% placed silver diamine fluoride or fluoride varnish. Altered patient positioning was used by 70.5%. Most students (95.4%) reported that their experience positively changed their attitudes towards caring for patients with disabilities in the future. Eight themes emerged, notably increased comfort and confidence, a willingness and desire to treat patients, the acquisition of new skills, and clinician behaviors of empathy and compassion towards others. Conclusion Training can help prepare dental hygiene students with the confidence and skills to address the oral health needs of individuals with disabilities.

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