Expanded Access

Improving the oral health of all means providing access to dental care for all. And we have a lot of work to do.
 
To start, more than 74 million Americans lack access to dental coverage — and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted health care systems and resulted in millions of lost jobs. Many of those 74 million are a result of socioeconomic factors and racial inequalities that persist throughout the country and contribute to worse health outcomes for certain populations. More specifically:
 
  • 43 percent of Americans live in rural areas that lack access to dental care.
  • Black adults are 22% less likely than white adults to have had a routine dental visit in the past year.
  • 4 in 10 Black and Latino adults reside in one of the 14 states where Medicaid’s adult dental benefits cover no services or emergency-only care.
 
To start solving this problem, we need to break down the complex barriers that keep people from accessing dental care and think differently about how we deliver oral care.
 

Breaking Down Barriers
Americans face many barriers to accessing quality health care, beyond just lack of insurance. Issues such as a lack of transportation, the inability to take time off from work for an appointment, limited numbers of oral care providers in an area, language and cultural barriers, and lack of adequate coverage all contribute to the problem.
 
A 2019 research report, Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve, found widespread agreement on the problems with our failing oral health system — including these systematic, financial and emotional barriers to access and care. Fortunately, it also found that dentists, patients, physicians, employers and Medicaid dental administrators agree on solutions.

75%25 of Americans say they have experienced barriers to accessing dental care

The solutions are all rooted in the understanding that oral health is an integral part of overall health.
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Poor Families Spend 10 Times More
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Education & Resources to Navigate COVID-19
Americans lacked equitable access to oral care before 2020. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made that problem even worse. Our growing collection of COVID-19 continuing education and resources provide practical guidance on how to improve access and keep patients safe.  
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Bringing Care to the Patients
The traditional model of getting care at a dentist’s office simply doesn’t work for everyone and requires oral health providers to think differently about how to bring treatment to patients. 
 
How?
 
There are several promising solutions in use today:
 
  • Medical-Dental Integration: Moving toward an approach to care that integrates and coordinates dental medicine into primary care and behavioral health has demonstrated positive patient outcomes, along with reductions in total cost of care. Many community health programs and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are already doing this — and proving that it works.
  • Teledentistry: The ability to virtually deliver oral health and education services helps connect providers to each other or directly with patients in a variety of settings. It has become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, with patients reporting feeling overwhelmingly positive about their teledentistry experience. It can benefit a broad range of populations, including Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, the uninsured, underserved and rural populations, people with urgent dental care needs, and people who fear going to the dentist.
 
Expanding access to health care via these types of non-traditional methods helps patients achieve better health outcomes. And it also benefits the providers, employers and others who have the best interest of the patient in mind.
 
It’s a shift that can open new doors to better care — and better health — for all.