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J Dent Hyg. 2009 Spring;83(2):84-91. Epub 2009 Apr 1.

Current perceptions of the role of dental hygienists in interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Communication and Adult Education, Oregon University, OR, USA.



Recent scientific studies show strong correlations between oral and systemic disease, creating a crucial need for increased communication between the medical and dental professions. Interdisciplinary collaboration between medical and dental providers is emerging as a critical component to effective patient care. Dental hygienists have been underutilized in interdisciplinary collaboration, and what utilization does take place has not been well studied. The objectives of this research are to assess dental hygienists' perceptions of (1) their role in interdisciplinary collaboration, (2) the barriers to effective collaboration, and, (3) communication skills needed to better participate in interdisciplinary collaboration.


Data were gathered using an original, 45-question, quantitative survey instrument, consisting of Likert scale, ranking, and demographic questions. After approval from Oregon State University's Internal Review Board, the survey was pilot tested with 8 dental hygienists licensed in Oregon with diverse educational and practice backgrounds. The survey was revised based on feedback from the pilot test. Variables measured included experience, confidence, importance, leadership, knowledge utilization, and the future of interdisciplinary collaboration. Survey participants consisted of a convenience sample of Oregon dental hygienists (N=103), recruited from 2 large dental hygiene meetings. The overall response rate was 60% (N=103). Descriptive statistics and histograms were generated for all responses. To better understand the nature of relationships between variables, and to make comparisons among groups, statistical analyses included correlation analysis and t-tests.


Results show that dental hygienists perceive their role in interdisciplinary collaboration as valuable, both now and in the future. However, current experience in collaboration is limited. Barriers to collaboration include insufficient time and knowledge of medical diseases. Speaking, listening, and leadership skills are necessary to effectively participate in interdisciplinary collaboration.


Analyses of these findings support a call for greater education in communication skills. Increased knowledge of medical diseases is also needed to increase further confidence in interdisciplinary collaboration. Interdisciplinary education needs to become the expected standard in dental and medical education. Organizational and individual barriers to collaboration require further study.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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