Transforming Oral Health

Our health system is broken. Oral health is directly linked to overall health in countless ways. And while most people understand the need for comprehensive care, more than 74 million Americans don’t have access to dental coverage — nearly three times the number of people who are medically uninsured. For too long, socioeconomic barriers and racial inequalities have contributed to this broad lack of dental coverage. Today, for example, 43 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack access to dental care. And too many states still do not include an adult dental benefit in Medicaid or offer only very limited coverage.
Access to care graphic

The reality is that oral health is not a luxury or a perk — it is an essential component of our overall health that we can’t afford to silo from the rest of the health care system. The cost is simply too high. Individuals without dental insurance are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. They are more likely to visit emergency departments for dental care, where dental services cost more for both the individual and the health system. And the costs of chronic diseases, like diabetes, linked to oral health care are staggering. 
Changing these statistics and realities requires more than just expanding dental coverage. It requires expanding access and affordability, having a greater focus on preventing dental disease and prioritizing value over volume. It requires transforming our oral care and health care systems.
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And to truly transform, we need to focus on:
  • Adult Dental Benefit – Despite the overwhelming agreement that those reliant on Medicaid and Medicare should have dental coverage, there is no mandate to include the treatment of dental disease. This needs to change.
  • Expanded Access – Just having dental coverage is not enough when so many communities do not have access to a dentist. We need to deliver oral health care in non-traditional settings, like schools, community centers and nursing homes.
  • Health Equity – Whether it’s providing Medicaid dental coverage and care to millions of people or finding new ways to improve access, we all need to work together to help transform our oral health care system into an equitable one.
  • Medical-Dental Integration – For too long, we’ve viewed oral health as separate from the rest of the health system. This approach to care, instead, integrates and coordinates dental medicine with primary care and behavioral health to support individual and population health.
  • Preventistry – Our Preventistry model — including the pillars of Care, Value, Innovation and Transformation — is what drives our mission to shift dentistry toward prevention and care that emphasizes the overall health of the patient.
  • Teledentistry – Technology can help expand access, lower costs, improve health outcomes and improve patient satisfaction, making it a critical tool to help transform the oral health industry. 
  • Value-Based Care – In order to achieve better health outcomes, we must move to a delivery model in which providers are rewarded for quality health outcomes rather than the quantity of care delivered.
There is no quick fix. But all these changes, working together, will create a better, more equitable system that improves oral health — and overall health — outcomes for all.