Medical-Dental Integration

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.
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Collaborating to Create Better Health Outcomes

Working toward medical-dental integration is critical to improving oral and overall health outcomes.  Many community health programs and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are already doing this — and proving that it works. These types of collaborative approaches create scenarios that enable patients to realize the connection with oral health and overall wellbeing, encouraging healthy behavioral change and promoting the practice of prevention strategies.
For example, Advantage Dental, a leading dental care organization accountable care organization (ACO) in the state of Oregon and a part of DentaQuest’s Care Delivery group, developed a model that offers a unique approach to oral health care, emphasizing prevention over surgery, care in the community and population health management. In an ACO model, preventing disease from ever occurring and addressing issues that do develop before they become serious or costly helps organizations improve outcomes and reduce costs. The emphasis on prevention means better oral and overall health for its patients, and lower costs for the health care system and the state.
Value-based care and medical-dental integration go hand in hand. As we continue to move into an era where providers and payors are shifting from a focus on volume of services to the value of those services, the industry is changing. It’s becoming clear that taking this holistic, whole-body, prevention-first approach to oral care and health care will have greater financial benefit to providers and, more importantly, afford better access and improved health outcomes for patients.