A Collaborative Assessment of Barriers to Oral Health Care

Are Social Workers Needed?


  • Stephanie Lyons Indiana University School of Social Work
  • Stuart Schrader Clinical Associate Professor, Behavioral Sciences Dept. of Biomedical Sciences and Comprehensive Care Indiana School of Dentistry Executive Director, IUSD Oral Health Care for Cancer Patients Program Foundation Visiting Lecturer; Newcastle University School of Dental Sciences Newcastle, UK
  • Erika Galyean MSW Field Coordinator IU School of Social Work
  • Laura Romito Assistant Dean, Faculty Development and Engagement, IU Interprofessional Practice & Education Center Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Comprehensive Care Indiana University School of Dentistry
  • Caroline Everidge MSW LSW
  • Margaret Smith MSW
  • Surendra Reddy Mandapati DDS Student Class of 2020 Indiana University School of Dentistry




Interprofessional collaboration, oral health disparities, licensed health care social worker


Oral health disparities are pervasive. Interprofessional education and collaborative practice experiences may be a means to address this problem in oral healthcare settings. This project aimed to determine: (1) barriers involved in patients’ access to oral health care at an academic dental school clinic, (2) dental students’ perceived ability to address patients’ needs and/or care barriers, (3) the ability of current clinical operations’ to address access to care issues, and (4) the potential role of a licensed health care social worker integrated into the clinic. Investigators conducted three focus groups –one student group (n=5), one clinical staff group (n=7), and one clinical faculty group (n=5). Further, investigators administered two needs assessment surveys in the dental school – one with students, staff, and faculty (n=144) and the second with the school’s dental patients (n=150). Investigators employed descriptive and inferential statistical analyses to evaluate the survey data. Five principal barriers to oral health care for dental patients were identified from focus group and survey data, inclusive of patients, students, staff and faculty perspectives: (1) lack of financial means, (2) lack of/inadequate insurance, (3) limited/no transportation, (4) general health problems, and (5) language barriers. More female patients (38.7%) than male patients (8.1%) reported financial barriers to accessing oral care. Including licensed social workers in an academic dental clinic may help address patient barriers to care and support interprofessional collaborative practice.


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