Tooth and Nail

New PA outreach has real bite

May 15, 2022
Physician Assistant student Jordan Mangat applies fluoride varnish
Physician Assistant student Jordan Mangat applies fluoride varnish

Based on all of the toothpaste and mouthwash ads most people have seen, fluoride is a key to strong teeth, a beautiful smile, and a healthy mouth. Turns out those dental hygiene ads forgot one small thing: good oral health is a critical reflection of our overall health.

A recently published article by the Surgeon General called oral health, “a mirror that reflects your overall health and well-being.”

Touro University California doesn’t have a School of Dentistry, but it does have a Joint Physician Assistant/Public Health program, which has developed a community outreach program that takes advantage of PAs’ versatility.

“Stay Flossy,” as the program is called, in conjunction with MOBEC, Touro’s Mobile Diabetes Education program, allows PA faculty and students to bring fluoride varnish to members of the public in a variety of community settings.

This access point between the PA program and community members not only helps take Stay Flossy to people where they are, it allows PAs to connect with individuals about their overall health in the process.

Of course, the connection between PAs and fluoride might not be that clear to most people, but the “mirror” connection between oral health and overall health has been well-documented in a series of different studies.

“We (PAs) can look at the whole person and we can look at how oral health or the lack thereof affects the rest of the body,” said Josie Hunt, Associate Program Director for the Physician Assistant Program at TUC. “How can we help prevent some of the conditions that lead to or exacerbate other health disorders?”

But who cares, you may ask.

Bad breath and aching teeth might not seem like a big deal but try telling your heart that.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the plaque that can build up in your mouth is the same that can harden arteries and lead to high risk of heart disease. Teeth loss can be associated with arterial disease and oral health in general has been connected to an increased risk of diabetes. Bacterial infections in the mouth help promote other types of infections throughout the body.

Fluoride varnish, like that applied by Touro’s Pas and PA-Students, can help strengthen tooth enamel and reduce the risk of tooth decay. Dental industry experts point out that many dental insurance programs cover fluoride treatments for children but not adults, making this service vital for adults who might not otherwise have access to this type of dental treatment.

“I think it’s important to address chronic disorders,” said Jordan Mangat, a third-year PA student at Touro. “I’m also really interested in prevention. There’s the link to bigger disorders, but good dental health also leads to improved quality of life.”

PAs are probably most-known for their ability to bring services to communities where there may be access issues, such as lower income communities or more rural and remote areas. Having an added tool to offer patients adds to a PAs overall versatility to the community they serve.

“I think it’s an important part of primary care, to be able to apply fluoride varnish for people who might not have access to a dentist,” Mangat said.

Through the MOBEC settings, Stay Flossy can reach out to the community in a broader way and PAs can use this as an additional contact point for people in need of this service and other services.

“I think access is important,” Hunt said. “It’s also important to provide that education for people and MOBEC helps make that possible.”