Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Health Literacy with Read Across America

If you’ve ever read a book with a child, you know the feeling of joy that comes from the experience, as well as how fundamental literacy is for people of any age.

So it is a source of pride that DentaQuest staff from coast to coast are joining teachers, celebrities, community members and parents in getting kids excited about reading through the National Education Association's (NEA's) Read Across America Campaign, a celebration of reading timed with the birthday of Dr. Seuss.

As health industry professionals, we have a responsibility to educate consumers so they can be active advocates for their own health. In its health literacy fact sheetthe CDC says 9 out of 10 adults struggle to understand and use health information, especially when it is unfamiliar, complex or jargon-filled. In fact, low literacy contributes to poor health outcomes, higher rates of hospital utilization, and less frequent use of preventive services, in addition to overall higher health care costs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, since 1993 just 53 to 58 percent of children ages 3 to 5 years read or were read to on a daily basis.

Simply reading daily with a child is important.

  • Children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school. 
  • Children who read frequently develop stronger reading skills. 

As part of this year’s NEA campaign, our staff is visiting schools in:
  • Columbia, S.C.; 
  • Locust Hill and Richmond, Va.; 
  • Lincoln, Neb.; 
  • Milwaukee and Mequon, Wisc.; 
  • Austin and Red Rock, Texas; 
  • Doral, Fla.; 
  • Snoqualmie, Wa.; 
  • Anniston, Ala.; and 
  • the Greater Boston area. 

We are reading one of three fun books --Throw Your Tooth on the Roof by Selby B. Beeler, The Tooth Book by Edward Miller, and Open Wide by Laurie Keller. The school’s library will also get the book to keep for future reading.

Staff who have already visited classrooms said they felt like rock stars and oral health ambassadors. The children loved the facts we shared about their teeth, including how they should take care of their own teeth and gums.

Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease – and it is preventable. Introducing children to fun facts about their mouths, teeth and gums through the books we brought for Read Across America is a strong step in building the health literacy skills and disease prevention awareness that will empower this next generation of consumers to be health-knowledgeable adults.

Efforts like these will go a long way to helping us achieve our vision of being a nation where children can grow up free of dental disease.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Let's Talk Water Fluoridation this Children's Dental Health Month

In addition to Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days, February also marks National Children’s Dental Health Month, with a theme this year connected to fluoridation.

Dating back to February 1941, the month-long celebration brings together dental professionals, health care providers, educators, policymakers and more stakeholders to promote the benefits of good oral health for children through various activities and events.

This year’s campaign slogan is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile,” focusing on the value of fluoridation.

Fluoride combines with enamel on the tooth’s surface to make it stronger, better able to resist decay, and prevent dental caries —the most common chronic disease for children.  

Over the years, research has supported the value of fluoridation:

Water fluoridation, since it requires passive action to show effect, offers a simple solution to contain total oral health expenditures, improve population health, and set children up to have better oral health as adults.

Water fluoridation benefits the entire community, regardless of status or background, which is critical to addressing ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic barriers to effective oral healthcare—a widespread problem in the United States.

National Institutes of Health data indicates that 20 percent of White, non-Hispanic Americans have untreated tooth decay compared to 40 percent for Black, non-Hispanic Americans and 38 percent for Mexican Americans.

This data also showed that individuals below the federal poverty line (FPL) are almost three times more likely to have untreated decay compared to those making twice the FPL or above.

This makes dental disease a disease of disparities, which can be prevented, in part, by easy and free access to fluoride.

Fluoridated water is an evidence-based, cost-effective path to promote health equity and, as an oral health organization committed to improving the oral health of all, it is just another reason DentaQuest celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dental Coverage has Bipartisan Support among Voters

As the new Trump Administration and Republican Congress begin their work this month, they will have the opportunity to advance conservative priorities through major legislative changes. At the top of their list is repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which will have implications for the dental health and overall health of many Americans.

ACA replacement proposals from President-elect Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan, and the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services Rep. Tom Price should signal major changes forthcoming to the health care industry.

The ACA’s Medicaid expansion, essential health benefits, and exchange provisions have increased access to dental care for both children and adults. While the future of these elements is uncertain, we at DentaQuest want to ensure that replacement proposals do not jeopardize this important access to oral health. We’ve made great strides in eliminating barriers to dental coverage for millions of Americans who gained access through the ACA.

As policymakers consider different replacement plans, the role of oral health must remain a priority. 

In a recent survey of 2,000 registered U.S. voters conducted by DentaQuest via Morning Consult, the inclusion of dental coverage in public programs received widespread support from voters of both parties.

The survey showed that:

  • 83 percent of respondents think dental coverage should be a part of Medicare
    • 83 percent of Republicans agree
    • 86 percent of Democrats agree
    • 81 percent of Independents agree
  • 73 percent of respondents believe dental coverage should be a required benefit in Medicaid
    • 64 percent of Republicans agree
    • 82 percent of Democrats agree
    • 71 percent of Independents agree

Dental coverage is not currently included in Medicare, nor is it a required benefit for adults in Medicaid. A full repeal of the ACA could compound oral health access issues by eliminating Medicaid expansion and the exchanges— two important sources of affordable dental coverage.

Research continues to show a connection between oral and overall health. Dental coverage is a critical first step to improve both oral and overall health outcomes, reduce persistent health disparities, and contain systemic costs.

As policymakers seek to improve our existing health care system, oral health must be a part of the solution. 

It is clear: Dental coverage has demonstrated itself to be a bipartisan priority for the American public. As we enter a 2017 legislative session with significant health care policy changes on the agenda, dental coverage must also remain a priority for Congress.

The full survey conducted by DentaQuest and Morning Consult will be released in 2017.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Proud to Reflect on DentaQuest Giving Back, Remain Committed for 2017

The start of a new year is an opportunity to reflect and consider how we fit into the community at large. Through our corporate giving program and the volunteered talents of our staff, we are investing in our neighborhoods, supporting our stakeholders, and creating leadership opportunities for our employees. Here are highlights from 2016 that will help us have even greater impact for 2017:

Community is the Foundation of What We Do

We awarded Corporate Giving funds to safety net dental programs and community organizations that help thousands of at-risk children, families, people with disabilities, and seniors. We were also involved with organizations working to feed the hungry, prepare the next generation workforce, end health disparities and inequity, and help neighbors who are struggling to get through each day.

In 2016, DentaQuest’s Giving Program touched 165 organizations in 26 states. And that is in addition to the millions of dollars in investments made by our DentaQuest Foundation and our DentaQuest Institute to community change makers who are working for better policies, financing, and care with a goal of improving the oral health of all. All this matters because oral health really is fundamental to living a healthy life and important to academic and economic success.

Missions of Mercy Dental Clinics

While our 24 million members have access to quality dental care, there are millions more who are uninsured or underinsured and fall through the cracks at the worst of times. Many of them depend on the arrival of the Mission of Mercy, a multi-day free clinic staffed by volunteers, for essential dental care services. Working with local dental societies and our local staff volunteers, DentaQuest supported 21 free care clinics in 18 states.

Consider that, on average, each Mission of Mercy clinic serves 1,500 to 2,000 patients; the dental clinics that we supported provided over $15,000,000 in services and helped nearly 30,000 individuals who have great needs and few other options.

Stand Together in Times of Crisis

Our employee-directed Corporate Giving Committee directed financial support to communities that suffered in 2016: areas recovering from Hurricane Matthew in Florida and South Carolina, the once-in-a-century floods in Louisiana, flooded areas of rural West Virginia, the destructive wildfires (and tornado) in Tennessee. Support was also sent to Orlando after it suffered a violent shooting and to a help those in need after a five-alarm fire in Cambridge, Mass.

Throughout the year, we provided toothbrushes to schools, after school programs, and community health fairs serving at-risk children in high need neighborhoods. And through our matched giving program, our employees made additional contributions to charities close to their hearts.

Sweat Equity 

For us, giving is a combination of equity and sweat. Our employees look forward to attending local events that support the community and are willing volunteers at health fairs, walks for a cause, and dental care clinics.

During our annual Mission Month (mid-September to mid-October), we roll up our sleeves and leave the office to conquer high-impact projects tailored to the need of the community. This year, it was to feed families at Ronald McDonald Houses, paint and update schools and community centers, remove invasive plants from local rivers, and reclaim and replant city gardens.

We participated in 35 events in 11 states. A remarkable 67 percent of our employees participated in a Mission Month project, contributing over 3,612 volunteer hours, valued at $93,912.

Some go even further. Our Living the Mission Awards honor employees who go above and beyond for their sustained volunteer contributions to a charitable organization outside of Mission Month or company-sponsored events. Congrats again to those awardees!

What's Next?

Looking back on what we’ve accomplished in 2016, it is with pride that we can say we live our mission every day.  We truly are the dental company with vision, and heart. Looking forward, we will aim higher, find ways to give more of ourselves to those around us, and ultimately stay true to our mission - improving the oral health of all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Adult Medicaid Dental is Key to Overall Health, Requires Increased Access

Medicaid programs are well-positioned to prioritize optimal oral health in their states through adult dental benefits, but systematic changes are necessary to fully address barriers to dental care.

Although Medicaid programs are required to provide pediatric dental coverage for low-income children, extending those benefits to the adult population is optional. Currently 15 states offer extensive dental coverage for low-income adults on Medicaid, while 17 states only provide coverage for dental emergencies or provide no coverage at all.

Robust adult dental benefits can have tremendous impacts on state Medicaid populations:

·         Individuals with dental benefits are 42 percent more likely to have a dental checkup within the year than individuals who don’t have coverage. Additionally, when parents receive care, their children are more likely to go to the dentist as well.

·         Reducing or eliminating Medicaid adult dental benefits has led to significant increases in dental-related emergency department visit and associated costs in states like California.

·         Ensuring low-income adults have access to comprehensive dental coverage can improve employability, as adults lose millions of work hours each year due to dental disease.

·         Increasing access to dental coverage can help to reduce disparities as well because untreated dental disease disproportionately afflicts racial and ethnic minorities.

·         Treatment of gum disease can lead to better health management — as evidenced by lower health care costs and fewer hospitalizations — among people with common health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy. These links to improved overall health management are particularly critical for Medicaid beneficiaries.

The economic, oral health, and overall health outcomes above are tremendous arguments for states to invest in a Medicaid adult dental benefit, but access challenges will persist without systematic approaches to oral health.

In this month’s publication of Health Affairs, research conducted by the DentaQuest Institute and the American Dental Association shows that emergency department utilization for oral health conditions rose in Kentucky after Medicaid expansion, which included a dental benefit for adults.

In the emergency department, patients generally receive palliative and costly care. A combination of pain-management (usually opioids) and infection management for preventable conditions costs the U.S. health care system an estimated $1.6 billion annually.

Presumably, increasing coverage under Medicaid would have reduced emergency department utilization and associated costs. Why didn’t this happen for Kentucky?

Although Kentucky expanded dental coverage to adults in Medicaid, the state still faced many challenges:

Coverage is a critical first step to ensuring access to dental services for adults served by Medicaid, but it cannot be the only step. 

While information in Kentucky suggests that an increase in emergency department use following the addition of an adult Medicaid dental benefit is likely temporary, strategies to improve oral health in a state must go beyond coverage alone.

Key strategies that states must consider include:
  • provider capacity and support, 
  • reimbursement rates,
  • dynamic oral health education, and 
  • the integration of oral health screenings and/or referrals into primary care are. 

These factors are critical to ensure that patients receive the most appropriate care in a timely manner and in the most appropriate setting.

Fortunately, organizations like DentaQuest are creating multi-pronged approaches to these systemic oral health challenges.

At DentaQuest, we align philanthropy, science, coverage and care to improve the oral health of all. DentaQuest Foundation delivers millions of dollars in grant funding to hundreds of initiatives across the nation, fostering oral health innovation at the grassroots level. Ideas that prove most promising are leveraged by the DentaQuest Institute, which develops innovative clinical care and practice management solutions to help providers deliver optimal care.

Programs and initiatives that prove to be both effective and scalable by the DentaQuest Institute are then integrated in a broader fashion by DentaQuest Benefits Administration and the DentaQuest Care Group, fueling a comprehensive disease management approach toward health that is prevention-focused and outcome-driven. 

We are more than just a dental administrator. We are an incubator of innovation and a proving ground for pioneering initiatives in the oral health space that improve health.

These types of collaborative solutions that incorporate a wide array of stakeholders are imperative to successfully improve oral health in a state and to achieve the Triple Aim – reduce healthcare costs, improve the patient experience, and achieve better health outcomes. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why are dentistry and oral health care practices seemingly easy to question?

The topic of evidence in dentistry and oral health care has been in the news a lot recently, with articles like this column in the New York Times by a professor of pediatrics.

In his column, Aaron Carroll discusses the differences he sees between his own and his wife’s dental journeys, as well as what little rigorous research has been done to support certain generally recommended dental practices.

What is interesting is that articles like this one and the popular flossing article from the Associated Press, among others, imply that recommendations made by dentists are based solely on limited or weak evidence – or worse, based simply on what the dentist will get paid for by an insurance company.

They also leave readers feeling that plaque removal and cavity prevention/treatment are the only elements necessary to address for good oral health.

Ultimately, Carroll suggests in his column that while lack of evidence doesn’t mean oral health prevention efforts don’t work, we should invest in research to ensure that those things we do are evidence-based.

For those of us in the business of improving oral health, we couldn’t agree more with that conclusion. But let’s take a closer look at some of the points that may have gone overlooked by recent press coverage.

We know that evidence something works for populations doesn’t directly translate into solutions for a specific individual – that is in fact why Carroll and his wife have such dramatically different dental journeys.

Carroll notes he has had just one filling in his life and doesn’t religiously care for his mouth, while his wife has “more fillings than [he] can count” but is fastidious in her oral care routines.

This underscores two important points:

1. Every person is different. Individualizing care is critical to improved oral health.

While evidence-based research informs standards of care, it is the dental team that must develop the best care plan for any given person’s situation. That is why DentaQuest invests in the development and adoption of evidence-based care protocols that focus on prevention, early intervention and disease management.

Our investments in disease management and risk assessment help provide dental teams with the knowledge and tools they need to best serve their patients.

For instance, across a five-year period, the DentaQuest Oral HealthCenter demonstrated that risk assessment and intense preventive efforts (including sealants and fluoride varnish) directly resulted in a reduction in the need for invasive surgical procedures.

Sealants are one of the most cost-effective strategies for protecting teeth, as noted in another recent New York Times column. This is because they provide a physical barrier against cavities. They can even be applied to teeth that are just starting to show signs of new cavities, and stop them from getting bigger.

The best time to seal a tooth is immediately after it erupts in the mouth, and so the DentaQuest Oral Health Center strives to set aside extra time at visits for children ages 6 and 11 since the permanent molars are usually erupting at that time. It is also why the DentaQuest Foundation collaborates so closely with school-based health alliances working to improve access to oral health care – and sealants – among children in grade school.

Additionally, with a patient population of over 10,000, the DentaQuest Oral Health Center works in collaboration with the DentaQuest Institute to refine strategies that make patients healthier. And when these best practices are implemented, they actively improve peoples’ health.

2. Prevention and oral health improvement do not take place solely in the dental chair.

Preventive dental visits provide an important opportunity for people to check in on their oral health habits and get evaluations for early signs of not just dental disease, but also chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Most of us spend two hours a year in a dental office. And, if we are to reconsider the benefit of two annual preventive visits as Carroll suggests, some of us might end up spending even less time with a clinician. So what about the other 8,758 hours?

The differences in the oral health of Carroll and his wife are not because he brushes with an electric toothbrush every day or because she is doing something “wrong” in her routine. Oral health care is more than just brushing and flossing. In fact, it is about more than your teeth and gums.

To make an impact, we have to take a look at how we pay for oral health care, how our public policies enable it, and how our communities prioritize it, in addition to how we provide it.

Addressing just one of those will not improve oral health care on the larger scale or reduce health care costs, as Carroll aims to do with his recommendations. We know oral health care is indeed critical for overall health. This is why we at DentaQuest look far beyond the dental chair.

For example, as part of Oral Health 2020, the DentaQuest Foundation is investing in efforts to incorporate oral health into the primary education system. Oral health education, screenings, assisted referral, and delivery of preventive care through our schools provide equitable, reliable entry into long-term oral health care.

DentaQuest also champions efforts to include innovative financing models for dental in person-centered approaches to care enabled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Over the last decade, we’ve seen significant movement to transform our health care system into one that improves quality, lowers costs, and makes people healthier. In fact, on the medical side the Triple Aim is starting to be supported by alternative payment and care delivery models that are person-centered and focus on prevention.

Why did that happen? Because experts and advocates knew there had to be a better way forward for a healthier America.

The same is true for oral health. We are beginning to see that it is possible to live in a world where optimal oral health is the expectation, not the exception. We must continue to invest the same transformative energy into improving the oral health of all because you cannot have optimal overall health without optimal oral health.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let’s improve oral health with provider-focused, patient-centric Medicaid dental partnerships

States and managed care organizations face real challenges when it comes to running a successful Medicaid program and helping people get and stay healthy. Medicaid leaders find themselves faced with extremely difficult decisions about how best to prioritize critical needs of the population – often times there are no silver bullets. Yet, Medicaid dental partnerships are a great step forward.

In the past, the dental component of a Medicaid program has fallen victim to tough decisions, receiving fewer resources and lagging behind when it came to ensuring access to needed care. And people suffered.  

Recognizing this, states started to look at their Medicaid dental programs differently. They began seeking out industry experts like DentaQuest to help work directly with Medicaid agencies or to support managed care organizations to implement best practices. 

The result was that more people got access to the medically necessary oral health they needed.


Rapidly expanding regulatory requirements and Medicaid budget pressures, as well as the tidal wave of value-based payment and care models initiated by the Affordable Care Act, mean states once again find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to their Medicaid dental programs.  

Forward thinking states are moving past the notion that access to treatment is all it takes to improve the oral health of all. They recognize that an effective Medicaid dental program must achieve the Triple Aim: lower costs, improved population health, and better patient experiences.  

Tennessee is a perfect example of a dental partnership focused on the triple aim. 

In 2012, state Medicaid leaders recognized they were no longer meeting the oral needs of the people they served and set out to create a new Medicaid dental program model. They also recognized that they needed a new partner, not just a vendor, to help develop and implement a holistic approach to oral health.   

Since partnering with TennCare in 2013, DentaQuest has saved the state $27.5 million by prioritizing preventive care, which helps to avoid extensive, costly future procedures. In the second year of the program, the number of children participating in the program increased by 8 percent to 810,000 enrollees. Through our dental home program, we’ve made sure that each and every one of the 810,000 children is connected to a dentist who is willing and able to provide care.  

TennCare has been able to handle the influx of patients thanks to provider participation increase of 31 percent. DentaQuest has focused on easing the administrative burdens placed on providers and facilitating transparent communications.  

This successful model is built upon the idea that aligned incentives can improve outcomes.  

DentaQuest has a shared responsibility when it comes to improving outcomes and reducing costs. This challenge should not fall on providers and states alone. DentaQuest must meet outcome benchmarks—set by the state—related to access, network adequacy, outreach, and cost.  

DentaQuest met or exceeded benchmarks in all categories during the first two years and is poised to demonstrate success again in year three.   

The results of this model are encouraging: 

  • Average distance to a provider is 3.7 miles, compared to a benchmark of 30 miles 
  • Wait times for routine, urgent, and emergency care are significantly lower than the state’s thresholds 
  • 100 percent of beneficiaries have patient-centered dental homes—providing accessible, comprehensive, and coordinated care to enrollees 


DentaQuest has been able to succeed in part by educating and engaging patients and families—even hosting over 80 community events last year.  

This type of patient-centric program should serve as a model for other state Medicaid programs and partners. Change and innovation should not mean complexity and burden. 

There is a better way forward and DentaQuest has a roadmap to get there.