Sebastian Ciancio.

Sebastian Ciancio, DDS

Kurt Dermen.

Kurt H. Dermen, PhD

Online Counseling Aimed at Improving Oral Health Habits

Published April 1, 2019

Motivational interviewing is at the center of a new University at Buffalo study that aims to use the technique as a new approach to improve oral health practices among the public.

Most people know dentists advise brushing your teeth twice per day and flossing regularly, but few follow through on the healthy oral health habits.

UB researchers are now using a grant to develop the first online intervention based on motivational interviewing to help dental patients improve oral health behaviors — including frequent brushing and flossing — and slow risk behaviors that negatively affect oral health, such as tobacco and alcohol use.

First Online Intervention for Oral Health

UB researchers are now using a grant to develop the first online intervention based on motivational interviewing to help dental patients improve oral health behaviors — including frequent brushing and flossing — and slow risk behaviors that negatively affect oral health, such as tobacco and alcohol use.

The investigation is led by Sebastian Ciancio, DDS, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the UB School of Dental Medicine; and Kurt H. Dermen, PhD, senior research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Books, demonstrations, discussions — none of it is working. Dentists are always trying to motivate people to brush and floss properly, yet half of the U.S. population has some form of gingivitis,” says Ciancio, also director of the UB Center for Dental Studies.

“Creating an effective online program based on motivational interviewing will make it possible to achieve large-scale improvements in oral health at a relatively low cost,” Dermen adds.

Approach Used in Treating Substance Abuse

Motivational interviewing is a collaborative, goal-oriented counseling style that promotes behavior change by helping patients resolve doubt and indecision. Rather than give direction, the counselor guides patients to identify their own reasons and plans for change.

The researchers turned to this approach due to its effectiveness in treating alcohol and substance abuse. In a previous study, the investigators tested the ability of motivational interviewing to improve brushing and flossing habits in dental patients who suffered from alcohol abuse. The project’s success led to the development of an intervention training manual for dental professionals.

Because dental practices are limited in the amount of time they can spend counseling patients, the new study will modify the training manual into an online intervention that can be easily delivered to patients.

Teaching Clinic Patients Will Test Final Version

The researchers will conduct focus group interviews with 32 dentists and hygienists and 32 dental patients to guide development of the program. Various iterations of the online intervention will be tested with small sets of patients.  

The final version of the intervention will be tested with 24 UB Dental patients, the School of Dental Medicine teaching clinic that provides affordable care to thousands of Western New Yorkers. Patients will report their perceptions of the program’s ability to engage and motivate changes in behavior. 

Future research will test the program’s effectiveness and its utility with other populations at risk for oral disease, such as patients diagnosed with HIV or diabetes.

Two-Year Research Grant Funded by NIH

The two-year, $438,000 grant is funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health.

Additional study investigators from UB are:

Barrick is a senior research scientist in counseling psychology at UB’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions (CRIA) and Dermen is a senior research scientist in clinical psychology at the CRIA.