Oregon is the first state in the country to allow dentists to administer vaccines to patients.
In a year marked with heated debate about the state’s involvement in boosting vaccination rates, the bill was quietly passed and signed into law with little fanfare. But it sets a new precedent for the role dentistry plays in the health care system.
Two other states have laws that allow dentists to give flu shots to adults, but in Oregon, dentists will soon be able to give out any vaccine available at a primary care doctor’s office.
Most people likely won’t get their measles, polio and tetanus shots from the dentist, but Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry Dean Phillip Marucha said that they might want vaccines relevant to oral health.
A large percentage of new oral cancer diagnoses are linked to HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can also cause cervical cancer and genital warts. But the traditional practice of dentistry doesn’t allow for easy conversations about prevention.
Marucha said that this law, which he helped draft, will make that conversation easier. A dentist could educate patients about the value of the HPV vaccine and then administer it onsite.
“It’s pretty exciting to me, because it provides another opportunity to fill a care gap in the state of Oregon,” Marucha said.
OHSU dentistry students will all learn how to administer vaccines before graduation starting next year. As the state’s only dentistry school, OHSU will also begin to hold classes for practicing dentists who want to opt in.
Marucha is part of a push to make oral health more aligned with the rest of the health care system. As stand-alone dentistry practices start to vanish, as they have in Oregon, community health care centers and systems like Kaiser that place dentists’ offices next to pharmacies and general doctors have begun that transition.
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