By Steve Pollock, President and Chief Executive Officer, DentaQuest
It’s no secret that millions of Americans lack access to basic oral health care. According to the American Dental Association, 181 million Americans don’t visit a dentist in a given year and nearly half of people over 30 suffer from various forms of gum disease. This is a significant issue plaguing Americans across the country.
And, those who live in rural areas can experience higher rates of poverty, lower oral health education, dental provider shortages and a scarcity of dependable transportation, providing even more barriers to receiving basic dental care. This culmination of factors is creating significant gaps in our oral health care system, leaving many without services they need.
So, what is the solution?
Well, for starters, we need to prioritize medical-dental integration. Under this model, dental and primary care providers alike would take an integrated approach to diagnosis and treatment of patients.
To provide an example, primary care practices would be trained to identify and manage oral health needs for their patients, and also appropriately refer and collaborate with dental partners. Similarly, if a patient went for a routine dental check-up and showed signs or risk of diabetes, the dentist would then refer them to a primary care provider for a closer look.
By training providers in both practice worlds to conduct simple screenings and spot specific signs, we can identify and thus address health issues more quickly. And, in the healthcare system of tomorrow, a connected, efficient network can help identify and address preventable diseases earlier on, while also expanding our reach in underserved communities and improving cost efficiency.
Does medical-dental integration work?
The thinking behind this type of integrated approach is exactly how the MORE Care (Medical Oral Expanded Care) initiative came to life. MORE Care is a pilot program launched by the DentaQuest Institute that connects doctors’ offices with the resources and training to provide preventive oral health services in South Carolina. It also connects medical and dental teams to establish a referral-based system for patients.
Through these efforts, MORE Care has already been able to access rural populations, bringing them reliable, preventive care that previously was difficult to obtain.
Using a phased approach, the DentaQuest Institute, in partnership with the South Carolina Office of Rural Health and Medical University of South Carolina, is initiating pilots of this program throughout the state that build oral health into primary care, while also laying the foundation for dental care referral networks.
In its first year, we’ve worked with six rural primary care practices to collaborate on solutions, test strategies to effectively deliver preventive oral health services, communicate with dental providers and identify best practices for the future of this program.
We’ve also expanded our partnerships (working closely with the South Carolina Dental Association) to enhance the program.
Will there be MORE Care in the future?
So far, the results are promising – we are reaching underserved patient populations with integrated care and learning lessons to help us improve the program as we look to expand it. We hope to have significant data and insights early next year to inform our efforts to grow our reach.
As all of us in healthcare search for efficient solutions that achieve high-quality results, establishing medical-dental integration programs will allow providers to deliver care to the whole person, reach a patient population in significant need, and ultimately help control healthcare costs.