The growing geriatric population has unique and often complex oral health care needs. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions regarding direct access dental hygienists (DH) regarding the geriatric curriculum needed in dental hygiene education programs to prepare DHs to provide direct access care for geriatric populations. Purposive and network sampling strategies were used to recruit eligible direct access DHs from across the United States for this qualitative study. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted until was met. Demographic data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Open coding techniques were used to identify themes. Ten direct access DHs agreed to participate. Nine themes emerged from the data analysis: combining didactic and hands-on experience, how direct access differs from traditional practice, importance of a standardized course in entry-level programs, need for a specialty course in geriatrics, understanding the geriatric patient, understanding direct access settings, modifications to treatment modalities, process of care, and interprofessional knowledge. Participants indicated that entry-level dental hygiene students should be exposed to hands-on clinical rotations, have a standardized aging and geriatrics course, and potentially incorporate geriatrics as a specialty tract within dental hygiene programs. Geriatrics may not be covered in sufficient depth to prepare entry-level dental hygiene students for work with these populations in direct access settings. Findings from this study may be used to support improvements in geriatric curriculum for entry-level dental hygiene programs. Future research is needed to determine necessary focus and most effective way to disseminate this curricular content.
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