Nursing student Shelton Cole shows dental hygiene student, Morgan Kaminski, how to extract from a vile.
Nursing student Shelton Cole shows dental hygiene student, Morgan Kaminski, how to extract from a vile.
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UMMC Schools of Dentistry, Nursing team up to tackle HPV

Published on Monday, February 19, 2024

By: Rachel Vanderford, rvanderford@umc.edu

Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Photography

As part of the ongoing Mississippi Population Oral Health Collaborative, the UMMC School of Dentistry partnered with the UMMC School of Nursing and Mississippi State Department of Health for an interprofessional education session addressing HPV. 

Approximately 45 dental and dental hygiene students and 40 nursing students took part in an interprofessional education event, where they learned skills from one another. Dental and dental hygiene students learned how to give a vaccine injection, and nursing students learned how to provide a head and neck cancer screening.  

Currently, Mississippi is one of only seven states in the nation where oral health care practitioners can administer HPV vaccines. In 2023, the Mississippi Board of Dental Examiners approved a request from the School of Dentistry to allow students to train to administer the vaccine, making it the only institution in the nation where dental and dental hygiene students are trained to do so. 

Second-year dental student, Dutton Day, preparing to learn how to administer a vaccine.
Second-year dental student Dutton Day prepares to learn how to administer a vaccine.

Dr. Gerad Buffington, pharmacist at the Mississippi State Department of Health, also taught dental and dental hygiene students how to input immunization records into their tracking system, MIIX. 

Portrait of Dr. Elizabeth Carr

"We intend for each and every initiative we undertake to involve similarly-focused entities,” said Dr. Elizabeth Carr, professor and chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene and director of the MPOHC. “We find that it’s most effective when groups work together and have shared visions.” 

Since the mid-2000s, oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer rates have increased by about 1% per year, mostly because of a rise in cancers linked with human papillomavirus infection. The American Cancer Society estimated that about 58,450 new cases of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer will be detected in 2024, approximately 70% of which are typically associated with HPV. 

“Research has recently shown two important things,” Carr said. “First, that 70% of all head and neck cancers are caused by HPV viruses, and second, that the HPV vaccine is extremely effective in preventing HPV-virus caused cancers. 

“We think that it’s time for dental professionals to help with preventing head and neck cancers along with our current efforts to screen and detect them.” 

In 2022, only 39% of Mississippi teens were up to date on their HPV vaccine. The state currently ranks 50th in the nation for HPV vaccination rates.  

Nursing student, Junnah Mondejar, watches as dental hygiene students, Anna Shaw [left] and Mary Gillespie, demonstrate how to conduct an oral cancer screening.
Nursing student, Junnah Mondejar, watches as dental hygiene students, Anna Shaw, left, and Mary Gillespie, demonstrate how to conduct an oral cancer screening.

Dr. Douglas Lowy, principal deputy director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, recently visited UMMC to address HPV treatment and prevention methods in Mississippi. Lowy developed technology that led to vaccines against the two deadliest forms of cancer-causing HPV. According to Carr, Lowy said there are two things that could change the trajectory of HPV-related cancer rates in Mississippi: vaccines before early adulthood and oral cancer screenings.  

“Research across the world is showing the most effective way to increase the acceptance rate of this valuable cancer-preventing vaccine is through provider referral,” said Carr. She said one goal, in addition to cross training the students, was to keep the importance of recommending the HPV vaccine in the front of the new providers’ minds.  

Portrait of Dr. Eloise Lopez-Lambert

Dr. Eloise Lopez-Lambert, assistant professor of nursing, said she believes interprofessional education is the key to better patient outcomes.  

“Every discipline brings a unique perspective and expertise to patient care,” she said. “Our patients benefit when we learn about each other’s roles and responsibilities.” 

Portrait of Melissa McBride

“We hope that our students learn to feel more comfortable working with colleagues across other disciplines and confident in their communication skills,” said Melissa McBride, instructor in the School of Nursing. "By exposing students to other disciplines through IPE, we hope to increase their awareness of the resources available to them as a health care provider.” 

“When health care professionals work together, patients receive more coordinated and comprehensive care, leading to better health outcomes and increased patient satisfaction,” Lopez-Lambert added. 

“It takes us all doing our part to increase the health and wellness of Mississippians,” Carr said. 

Nursing student Junnah Mondejar said that working together with the dental and dental hygiene students was a great experience. “I enjoyed learning hands-on skills from other students,” she said. “Everyone was so passionate about learning and teaching each other.”