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The role of oral health is being elevated to a new level of importance for the next generation of physicians. A licensed Hawaiʻi dentist, now on board at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), has been designated to integrate oral health into the medical school’s core curriculum, thanks to the generous support of Hawaii Dental Service (HDS), the state’s leading dental benefits provider.

JABSOM has named Matthew Oishi as its first oral health director, a newly established part-time faculty position funded with a $2.25 million endowment from HDS.

Oishi will develop an innovative oral health curriculum for aspiring physicians during their four years in medical school, which includes lectures, workshops and clinical training in JABSOM’s H.O.M.E. (Houseless Outreach and Medical Education) program. He will teach students about oral assessments, dental referral issues and management of acute dental problems.

In the coming year, JABSOM also hopes to collaborate with the UH Mānoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing’s dental hygiene program to incorporate students into the H.O.M.E. clinic to work with the medical students.

“Oishi’s extensive knowledge of public health dentistry and preventive oral care make him ideally suited for this critically important position. We appreciate the generosity of HDS and its commitment to make oral health a priority for our medical students,” said Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, acting dean of JABSOM. “Oral health is often overlooked in the care of patients and this position is a positive step toward integrating oral health and medical health, in the same way we have seen the need to make mental health a priority in the delivery of primary care.”

“Oral health is a critical component of whole person health. We see this association between oral health and chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia,” said Mark Sweet, HDS dental director. “Training medical professionals in oral health care helps them better understand this connection. We are creating a more comprehensive healthcare system that delivers better outcomes for patients.”

Oishi currently serves as a public health dentist at Kōkua Kalihi Valley, where he provides education to New York University dental residents. He also currently works as a community dentist at the Lānaʻi Community Health Center, and as a geriatric dentist at the Arcadia Retirement Community. His research and scholarship achievements include conducting and publishing research on dental care within vulnerable and minority populations, including the elderly, HIV patients, African Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Improved health with medical-dental integration

The new oral health position and direction of JABSOM were validated by a recent report funded by the Delta Dental Institute, which showed that integrating medical and dental services improves health care outcomes, particularly among vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, pregnant women and those in need of chronic disease management.

The report noted that current medical-dental integration (MDI) models increase communication between dental and medical providers, including the exchange of electronic health records and the use of telehealth and teledentistry to coordinate care for patients with complex conditions. In addition, MDI-focused clinics have the capacity to diagnose and refer for chronic disease management, reducing the number of facilities, appointments and providers a patient must interact with to receive comprehensive oral and systemic care.

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