Targeted screening for medical conditions in a dental setting can be an effective strategy for early identification of individuals at increased disease risk. Dentists, patients and physicians have a favourable attitude towards this strategy. Given that dental hygienists (DHs) are involved in preventive and educational activities, this seems like a natural extension to their roles. We report on the attitudes of American DHs towards chairside medical screening.
A 5-point Likert scale (1 = very important/willing, 5 = very unimportant/unwilling) survey was mailed to a nationwide random sample of US practicing DHs. Descriptive statistics were used for all questions, and the Friedman nonparametric analysis of variance was used for multi-element questions.
A total of 3133 respondents returned the completed questionnaires for an effective response rate of 49.2% and a margin of error 1.8%. The majority of respondents felt it was important to perform/conduct chairside screening for hypertension (94%), diabetes mellitus (89%), cardiovascular disease (85%), HIV (79%) and hepatitis infection (78%); were willing to refer a patient for medical consult (94%), conduct screening that yields immediate results (85%); and were willing to collect the data/samples needed (57–95%). The most important considerations were dentist/owner support (98%), training (97%), patient willingness (98%) and time (98%).
Similar to dentists, physicians and patients, the majority of the DHs had a favourable attitude towards chairside medical screening. Integrating the DH into screening activities is likely to require additional training and education regarding the diseases of interest, something that could be accomplished through continuing education courses and eventually incorporation into the educational curriculum.