Raising medical students’ awareness for the interdependence between oral health and chronic diseases to promote future collaboration with dentists – evaluation of a problem-based learning approach

Katharina Pöschel, Markus Bleckwenn, Anne Schrimpf, Thomas Frese, Gerhard Schmalz, Dirk Ziebolz, Tobias Deutsch

Keywords: undergraduate medical education, problem-based learning, general practice, dentist, collaboration, oral health, chronic diseases

Despite substantial evidence regarding the interdependence between oral health and several chronic diseases, suggesting a high benefit of structured interdisciplinary treatment, collaboration between German general practitioners and dentists is poor. To sensitize medical students for the topic, new interdisciplinary teaching content was implemented into a geriatric problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum at Leipzig University.

Research questions:
How do medical students evaluate the new content? Does the curricular intervention increase students’ knowledge and raise awareness regarding the importance of the field and the benefit of collaboration?

During their mandatory geriatric PBL curriculum (fifth study year) students had to solve six paper-based patient cases in small-group online seminars. One case covered an oral health topic (2x1.5 hours at two days + preparation and follow-up work). Participants completed online-questionnaires before and after the case. Analyses include post-hoc evaluation, pre-post comparison, and comparison with an external control group (University of Halle-Wittenberg, fifth study year, no intervention).

These are preliminary results of an ongoing study. Response rate in the intervention group was 35.9% (125/348 complete pre-post datasets). Mean age was 25.7 and 68.5% were women. Referring to a ten-point scale (1-‘not at all’ to 10-‘absolutely’): Students’ overall confidence in dealing with dental problems slightly increased (pre: 2.5±1.7, post: 3.1±1.9) as well as their perception of the importance of collaboration (pre: 7.4±1.8, post: 8.3±1.5; p<0.001). After the seminar, participants felt more aware of systemic diseases associated with complications after dental interventions (pre: 5.8±2.4, post: 7.0±2.0; p <0.001) or negative effects on the progression of dental diseases (pre: 4.5±2.1, post: 6.6±1.9; p<0.001). Most students reported a positive influence on their perceptions regarding collaboration (87.9%) and to have gained new insights (89.5%), and recommended the content for future years (81.5%).

Dental content is welcomed by medical students and can raise their awareness of the benefit of a structured collaboration with dentists.

Points for discussion:
How is the topic implemented in undergraduate education in other European countries?

What is the current status of interdisciplinary collaboration between general practitioners and dentists in other European countries?

Is there any interest to collaborate regarding this research topic (educational research/ health services research) on a European level?