A NATIONAL CROSS-SECTIONAL STUDY OF SOCIAL WORKERS’ KNOWLEDGE, ATTITUDES, AND PRACTICES ABOUT ORAL HEALTH DISPARITIES AND DENTAL CARE
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Health is an essential human right, and oral health is significant because it is essential for psychological well-being and has the potential to present as a precursor to serious physical disease. While some people are able to avail themselves of the increasing levels of dental health advances, dental services are not practiced evenly across the population. Poor oral health literacy among individuals and healthcare professionals, including social workers, constitutes an important barrier to oral health care. In many cases, individuals may not realize the importance of oral health care or options for accessing such care. Social workers play a vital role in general health promotion, preventive information dissemination, and intervention. Also, they are likely to have contact with vulnerable populations, including children, older adults and underserved communities presenting with health risks. Attention to oral health has been limited in social work literature, and as the social work profession moves forward in this era of health care reform, it is essential to assess how much social workers know about oral health, attitudes about oral health care, assessment of oral health care, and value placed on good oral hygiene. To better understand these gaps, this study assessed the knowledge, attitude and practice of social workers regarding oral health care and explored the barriers to a good dental care practice and the educational needs of social workers. This study clearly showed that social workers want to learn more about oral health, and they seem to understand the importance of including oral health as part of a comprehensive assessment and treatment planning. Also, social workers expressed their need for education/training to enhance their practice. This study indicated a need for educational intervention and improved communication from oral health providers to increase awareness of the social and systemic impact on oral health. Dental health should no longer be overlooked, and social workers can be pivotal in prioritizing care, providing resources and ending inequity.