|Oral health is often secluded from the rest of the health care system and from conversations about overall health.
But the reality is that oral health is about much more than a smile — it is connected, in many ways, to the body, too. For example, there are direct links between oral health and many health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The cost to care for these diseases contributes to growing national health expenditures in the U.S. — above and beyond the $520 million Medicare spends annually on dental emergency room visits or the $6 billion lost in economic productivity from dental-related work absences. Given the rising costs and the evidence of the mouth-body connection, there is an increasing need to break down the silos and advance integration between traditional health care and oral health care.
How? Medical-dental integration.
What Is Medical-Dental Integration?
Medical-dental integration is an approach to care that integrates and coordinates dental medicine into primary care and behavioral health to support individual and population health. Also known as interprofessional practice, or IPP, it has demonstrated positive patient outcomes and reductions in total cost of care. It’s a model of care that holds the patient at the center and allows providers to come up with comprehensive care plans for the whole patient.
It is also an approach that is broadly supported. According to a recent DentaQuest report, patients (79%), dentists (96%), physicians (90%), employers (92%) and Medicaid dental administrators (85%) all believe oral health and overall health are connected. What’s more, they agree that greater collaboration across medical and dental providers would improve patient care.
The concept continued to gain traction in the new decade. According to a 2020 DentaQuest survey of 254 providers, 85% “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with the statement: “Medical-dental integration (the integration of preventive dental care into primary care settings and medical screenings into oral health settings) is an effective way to improve overall health.” The model is gaining national attention, too, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a medical-dental integration partnership in October of 2020.