Northeastern and Harvard Are Combining Dentistry and Primary Care

Under the schools' new model, patients could get dental and physical care in the same visit.


Northeastern photo by Alex Lau

If you had pneumonia, you probably wouldn’t attribute it to tooth plaque. But Northeastern University and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine want you to start thinking that way.

The two schools are joining forces to launch the Nurse Practitioner-Dentist Model for Primary Care, inspired by the belief that oral health should be part of routine medical care. The idea of integrating dentistry and primary care has been in circulation for years, but Northeastern and Harvard are bringing it straight to the clinic with the help of $1.2 million in funding from the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices’ Health Resources and Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion.

Through the program, Northeastern nurse practitioner students and Harvard dental students will provide holistic medical care to underserved populations, namely the elderly, in one of Harvard’s dental clinics, the goal being to help individuals get the care they need while teaching medical students how to balance the two disciplines. Patients will have the opportunity to have both a physical examination and a dental visit, all during the same appointment.

Meanwhile, nursing students will learn about and observe dental care—and vice versa—so that the two cohorts can collaborate on care. Clinicians from the two schools will also observe management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and and cardiovascular disease, both of which are related to periodontal disease, to see if patients’ statuses improve under the new model.

Maria Dolce, an associate professor of nursing at Northeastern, is spearheading the project. She told News @ Northeastern that multidisciplinary programs like the DPD Model are integral to improving medical care:

“We have had a very siloed approach to health-​​professions education—nurses, physi­cians, phar­ma­cists, and den­tists are all trained sep­a­rately,” she said. “But with appro­priate edu­ca­tion, all health pro­fes­sionals, specif­i­cally non-​​dental health pro­fes­sionals, can pro­mote oral health as a com­po­nent of overall health and wellness.”