While consumers consider the use of Alternative Tobacco Products (ATPs) such as e-cigarettes, a safe alternative to smoking, research shows an association between ATPs and poor oral health outcomes. Advancing ATP and tobacco product quit rates through better trained dental health professionals, would not only improve oral health outcomes, it would also reduce costs and improve care quality.
Why aren’t dental health professionals prepared to discuss ATPs with patients?
While dental professionals develop the skills of counseling patients during their professional training in dental school, a majority lack formative training about ATPs. It’s challenging to focus on one type of counseling training with everyday evolving oral health issues. Research shows that dental students feel less confident in counseling ATP associated negative oral health patients over other oral health counseling because of the lack of formal training during their time in dental school. Moreover, the study found that confidence reduced as students progressed. Third and fourth year dental students in clinical settings were less confident than the ones in initial years who have less patient interaction in clinical settings. Most importantly, the study pointed to a lack of awareness of ATPs, and their associated poor oral health outcomes, among a majority of dental students.
How could better training help reduce health care costs and improve outcomes?
As the ATP market continues to grow, it is critically imporant to prioritize ATP awareness among dental health professionals. The inability to provide effective patient counseling during dental visits causes increase in oral health care cost burden eventually due to persistence of poor oral health associated with use of ATPs. Patients perceive dentists as oral health role models and experts in what behaviors are most appropriate for good oral health. If dentists themselves are not confident enough about intervening with ATP users, we can’t expect the costs and poor outcomes associated with continued use of ATPs to reduce.