School of Health Professions

Speech-language pathology and dental students learn from each other in IPE pilot project

Dental and speech-lange pathology students particpate in an interprofessional pilot project


Speech-language pathology and dental students participating in a recent interprofessional pilot project explored how their professions complement each other and how they can better care for patients with special needs.

Jessi O’Brien, a second-year Master of Speech-Language Pathology student, said she has already used strategies she learned during the pilot program.

“I am at a clinical placement right now and work with children with autism from ages 2 to 7. I see a lot of oral care challenges,” O’Brien said. “When I heard about this opportunity, it was definitely something I’ve seen in my clinical experience that needs to be acknowledged.”

The project, “Building a Clinical Inter-professional Collaborative within a Special Needs Dental Clinic: The Crossroads of Dental and SLP Service Delivery,” received a grant from Linking Interprofessional Networks for Collaboration (LINC). Faculty leading the project include Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Assistant Professor Casey Taliancich-Klinger, PhD, CCC-SLP, Director of Clinical Education and Assistant Professor Angela Kennedy, SLP-D, CCC-SLP, and Assistant Professor Noorpreet Kaur, BDS, MPH, of the School of Dentistry.

“Dentists and SLPs have a lot of overlapping areas that are treated because we both work with the mouth and we both are evaluating overall oral health,” said Taliancich-Klinger. “As speech pathologists, while we are working on speech and language, the dentist is focused on structures that are really important for individuals to be able to talk. It makes sense we would be doing a better job communicating  with each other.”

“Right now, there is no literature that supports that communication between the professions is happening,” she said.

The main aim of the co-curricular interprofessional pilot project was to “get students in SLP and dentistry aware of the scope of each other’s practice and when it would be appropriate to refer to each other,” Taliancich-Klinger said.

“Oral health impacts our overall health and we work in two different worlds, but we do have so much overlap,” Kaur said.

Ten students — five each from the Master of Speech-Language Pathology and Doctor of Dental Surgery programs — participated in the project’s sessions this fall. The project used evidence-based oral health learning experiences and introduced the roles and responsibilities of the two professions to ensure students in each profession learned how the other profession approaches a patient’s oral health examinations and diagnoses and plans treatment for individuals with special needs.

“Our first session was to build a foundation,” Kaur said.

During the second session, students worked in interprofessional pairs on pediatric and adult case studies in a simulated special needs dental clinic.

“They worked together and learned from each other how to be a better health professional when working with patients with disabilities. They were able to communicate effectively and understand how the other health professional works and ultimately to provide more effective care for their patients and their caregivers,” Kaur said.

As part of the project, all students received a clinical toolkit that contained items related to dental desensitization and speech-language communication that allowed them to work collaboratively.

Second-year dental student Claudia Mendiola said she wanted to participate in the pilot project for several reasons, including the dental care challenges experienced by two of her cousins who have intellectual disabilities. She welcomed the chance to learn more about speech-language pathology as another opportunity to provide the best care to patients.

“I knew the bare minimum about speech pathologists,” Mendiola said. “I thought they were helping children and adults with their speech overall. I didn’t know it was about their function, swallowing and other complications. I think we just have a general idea of other professions but we don’t realize how well we can work together for the better care of the patients. I think it opens a whole new door.”

The timing of the project is particularly auspicious given the upcoming Phil and Karen Hunke Special Care Dentistry clinic that UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry has planned, Kaur said. “We’re hoping this is something we can implement in the future and provide more educational experiences for our students and comprehensive care for our patients at the clinic.”

“We felt it was a huge success and the beginning of what we think can be a really great interprofessional educational opportunity,” Taliancich-Klinger said. “We are already planning the next grant and how to expand the program.”

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