PhD student Stacey Griner addresses oral health literacy

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October is National Dental Hygiene Month

“There is very little research about dental and oral health among college students and on university campuses,” Stacey Griner said. “So I decided to use my training in dental hygiene to learn more about the dental needs of students and identify areas that can be improved.”

Griner, a registered dental hygienist who is pursuing her PhD in public health in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health, submitted her research titled,” Addressing Oral Health Literacy: An Unmet Need for College Students,” to the American College Health Association.

USF College of Public Health doctoral student, Stacey Griner, MPH (Photo courtesy of Griner).

USF College of Public Health doctoral student, Stacey Griner, MPH (Photo by Caitlin Keough).

In brief, she said health literacy is the ability to find and use information to make informed health decisions.

For her research, Griner and her team members used an online survey to determine where students find information about oral health; how they understand the information they find; how they determine if it’s relevant to their specific needs; how they might communicate this information and their needs to health care providers; and ultimately what health actions and decisions they make.

They then assessed participants’ oral health needs and preferences to understand areas for improvement.

“This topic is important to the field of public health because many of the students at USF Health are being trained to become providers, so in the future they will be key agents to deliver health information to their patients,” she said. “To be fully trained, comprehensive health care providers and professionals, USF Health students should understand how to maintain their own oral health, but also be prepared to address issues such as oral systemic health with their future patients.”

She hopes data from their study at USF reveals specific areas where public health can work in collaboration across USF Health and other community providers to provide services to college students, maybe even on campus in the future.

Griner also received funding from the USF Center for Wellness, Engagement, Leadership and Learning (WELL) to plan and implement an oral health promotion event to the USF Health community.

USF Health students learned about oral health literacy at the Back to School Brush Up event (Photo courtesy of Griner).

USF Health students learned about oral health literacy at the Back to School Brush Up event (Photo courtesy of Griner).

The Back to School Brush Up event, held on August 23, was a collaboration with the dental hygiene program at St. Petersburg College, where dental hygiene students provided health education, resources and supplies to attendees. This event also provided an opportunity to better understand the oral health literacy of students.

“Working with The WELL was a fantastic experience. Amy Phillips, COPH alumna and the coordinator of student engagement and wellness, was instrumental in designing and promoting this event and also gathered many resources for the students,” Griner said.

Amy Phillips and Stacey Griner hosted the Back to School Brush Up event at The WELL (Photo courtesy of The WELL).

Alumni Amy Phillips and Stacey Griner hosted the Back to School Brush Up event at The WELL (Photo courtesy of The WELL).

Griner said it was rewarding to see an idea that was on paper a few months ago be turned into a large, successful event that had a direct impact on students.

Back to School Brush Up attendees were able to pick up a variety of oral health supplies (Photo courtesy of Griner).

Back to School Brush Up attendees were able to pick up a variety of oral health supplies (Photo courtesy of Griner).

“I was also proud to make relationships with St. Petersburg College’s dental hygiene program and have dental hygiene students provide education to the USF Health community,” she said. “St. Petersburg College provides low-cost dental services to the community, so it was rewarding to link students to an affordable resource for dental care.”

The Back to School Brush Up event (Photo courtesy of Griner).

The Back to School Brush Up event (Photo courtesy of Griner).

Griner’s next step for her research will be to present at the American College Health Association’s annual meeting held in Washington, D.C. in May.

“At the presentation, I hope to receive feedback from college health professionals who have experience designing programs to promote oral health on campuses and who can share insight into future next steps for this work,” she said.

Additionally, Griner hopes to have this research published in scholarly journals, to advance the science, and reach other health professionals and stakeholders.

“The overall health of college students is important to me because it is a time in life when young adults begin to take responsibility for their health. In general, there seems to be a disconnect between medicine and dentistry,” she said. “The health of your mouth, teeth, and gums are seen as separate from the rest of your body, but in fact oral health and systemic health influence each other. For example, gingivitis and other gum infections are shown to increase risks for chronic conditions like heart disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes.”

Upon graduating, Griner hopes to find a tenure-track position at a university with a large student population, where she can apply her teaching, research, leadership and service skills to improve college health.

Griner, S.B., Vamos, C.A., Phillips, A.P., Thompson, E.L., Puccio, J., Perrin, K., & Daley, E.M. (2017). Addressing Oral Health Literacy: An Unmet Need for College Students. Oral presentation at the American College Health Association Annual Meeting, Washington, DC (Submitted).

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

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