NIH Award to Support Oral Healthcare for Palliative Care Patients

Dentistry Today


Researchers at the University of Iowa School of Dentistry will use a $425,000 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve oral healthcare for palliative care patients. 

Though oral health conditions including dry mouth, infections, and pain are common among the millions of people who receive palliative care in the United States each year, most of these patients don’t receive any oral healthcare prior to their death, the researchers said.

Addressing these oral diseases can help improve the quality of life of these patients and help them maintain their dignity, the researchers said. Treatment also can reduce aspiration pneumonia, life-threatening septicemia, and other systemic complications.

Additionally, the researchers said, preventive care and early treatment are much more cost-effective that reacting to complications resulting from these oral health conditions.

Yet oral healthcare has not been integrated into daily palliative care practices, the researchers said, and physicians often treat oral health as a less important issue for this population, which results in patients and their caregivers not valuing oral healthcare as well. 

The NIH award will support a new study that builds on earlier research into palliative care patients and their caregivers to identify barriers and solutions to both personal and professional high-quality oral healthcare.

The study will identify patients at the University of Iowa Palliative Care clinic. Researchers will conduct oral examinations and perform qualitative interviews with patients and their caregivers to determine each patient’s oral healthcare needs, treatment goals, and care preferences.

This data will be used to develop an intervention designed to increase oral health awareness among the palliative care team and increase dental referrals for their patients. The researchers also will evaluate the feasibility of integrating a proposed intervention into daily personal palliative care practices over a six-month period.

In addition to this intervention, a palliative dental practice building at the University of Iowa Palliative Care clinic also will be developed to provide on-site assessment and consults for palliative care patients requiring dental referrals.

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