SAN FRANCISCO — Integrating oral health care into the curricula of physician assistant programs has the potential to improve oral health disparities in primary care settings, according to a speaker here.  

Laurin Cahill, BS, study researcher and physician assistant candidate at Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences in Buies Creek, North Carolina, presented data from her Master in Physician Assistant Practice Capstone Project at the American Academy of Physician Assistant 2015 meeting

For the project, Cahill used internet-based surveys to assess knowledge regarding oral health, and comfort and skill level in conducting oral exams and procedures among a convenience sample of 44 PA students in their didactic year, and 37 students in their clinical year, who participated in the school’s pediatric oral health curriculum.

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The curriculum consisted of oral health care lectures, an oral exam/flouride varnish lab and service learning in a community dental clinic. 

Didactic students completed the surveys immediately prior to and then again after curriculum events, and clinical year students completed a single retrospective survey after a service-learning event.

Participants reported significant increases in their perceived knowledge, comfort, and ability in providing appropriate oral health care after participating in the program, Cahill found.  

“The increases reported by students regarding their perceived importance, knowledge, ability and comfort suggest [this] is an effective way to prepare students to address oral heath disparities,” she said. “Expanding oral health curricula in PA education may contribute to improved oral health care outcomes, particularly among underserved populations.”

Future research in this area should include longitudinal studies of PAs in clinical practice to assess current practice habits regarding oral health as well as barriers to practice, educational needs and adult oral health care, she added.


  1. Cahill L et al. “Integrating Oral Health Education and Practical Experience into the Physician Assistant Curriculum: Effects and Outcomes.” Presented at: AAPA 2015. May 23-27, 2015. San Francisco, California.