Expanded Access

Improving the oral health of all means providing access to dental care for all. Nearly 74 million Americans lack access to dental coverage, even 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. To begin solving this problem, we need to break down the complex barriers that keep people from accessing oral health care and think differently about how we deliver it.

Breaking Down Barriers
Americans face many barriers to accessing quality health care — lack of insurance, 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.
75%25 of Americans say they have experienced barriers to accessing dental care

A recent DentaQuest research report found widespread agreement on the problems with our failing oral health system, including these systematic, financial and emotional barriers to access and care. Fortunately, the report also found that dentists, patients, physicians, employers and Medicaid dental administrators agree on solutions. A critical first step is the knowledge that oral health is an integral part of overall health.
How DentaQuest Outreach Coordinators Connect with Members
As an Outreach Coordinator in rural Colorado, Suprena Crawford is helping close the gap between providers and the community and reducing stigma around Medicaid.
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Finding Creative Ways to Keep Kids in Dental Chairs
Aaron’s two sons, ages 10 and 8, were missing their routine school-based oral care because local schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The care they received at a community clinic was “top-notch.”
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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 bringing treatment to patients.
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 directly with patients and with other providers in a variety of settings. While it has become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also benefit a broad range of populations in the long-term, 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.
  • Providing care in non-traditional settings. Going beyond the dentist’s or doctor’s office means providing care in non-traditional settings, including schools, nursing homes, pharmacies or community centers. 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.

    Providing care in schools and nursing homes became especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, once again, innovative dental organizations and caregivers found a way. Dental hygienist Tiffany Foy and the Advantage Dental team, for example, found a unique solution in Central Oregon. Unable to facilitate many of the community-based oral health programs they typically operate to provide preventive screenings, cleanings and sealants, they moved quickly to set up community care days at local health clinics.
Expanding access doesn’t happen overnight, but the shift in mindset and practice can open new doors to better care — and better health — for all.