Monday, February 22, 2016

A Million Hearts: Improving Oral Care for Healthier Hearts

By Brian B. NovĂ˝, D.D.S. F.A.D.I., Director of Practice Improvement, DentaQuest Institute

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated February as “American Heart Month,” drawing national drew attention to heart disease, today’s number one killer in America. Heart disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

To further President Johnson’s effort and heart disease prevention overall, President Barack Obama officially launched “Million Hearts” in 2011. Aiming to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services co-sponsored this national initiative on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This initiative seeks to:

  • Improve access to effective care;
  • Focus clinical attention on the prevention of heart attack and stroke; and
  •  Motivate the public to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.

What exactly is the connection between gum disease and heart disease? According to the Mayo Clinic, research suggests that the inflammation and infections associated with oral bacteria might be linked to heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke.

Prevention is necessary when combating bacteria that leads to the inflammation associated with gum and heart disease. Regularly brushing and flossing combined with bi-annual dental appointments are important steps to remove the bacteria, plaque and tartar that are detrimental to your oral – and heart – health.

As an additional step, dentists can learn to identify warning signs for heart disease and encourage patients to get screened if their mouths show signs of bacteria or inflammation during a routine cleaning or check-up.

At DentaQuest, we share many of the same goals that the Million Hearts initiative aims to achieve. Expanding access to care, stressing the importance of prevention, and improving the oral health of all are points that we live out day to day as a part of our core values.

Since the mouth is the gateway to the body, living a life with positive oral health habits can also lead to a heart and overall-healthy lifestyle. So this American Heart Month, don’t forget about the connection between oral and heart health. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

National Children’s Dental Health Month: Our Commitment to Improving the Oral Health of the Next Generation

By Steve Pollock, President and Chief Executive Officer, DentaQuest

This February marks the 75th annual National Children’s Dental Health Month, bringing together dental and health leaders across the country to raise awareness of and provide tools to improve kids’ oral – and overall – health. We are working hard to address the impact of sugar consumption on children’s long-term oral health with this year’s kid-friendly Sugar Wars campaign, hosted by the American Dental Association.

To help illustrate the importance of this campaign, added sugar consumption among children across the United States accounts for 15 percent of calories every day. This is a full 5 percent higher than the recommendations from the recently-released 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which indicate that added sugars should account for less than 10 percent of calories daily.

Now, think of the impact this has on their health, ranging from weight gain to nutritional deficiencies to tooth decay. Sugar helps nurture cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. If left unchecked, sugar intake can lead to significant tooth decay.

Would you believe that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood illness in the United States?

Tooth decay in kids is five times more common than asthma. Today, about 20 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth, and the percentage of children ages 5 to 19 with untreated tooth decay is actually twice as high for those from low-income families – when compared with children from higher-income households.

The implications of childhood tooth decay can carry into adolescence and even adulthood. Not only can childhood tooth decay have long-term effects linked to poor oral health, heart disease and even diabetes, but it also has a significant financial impact on our health care system. This impact can be measured in the millions of dollars we spend as a country on emergency room care for dental issues today or with the long-term financial implications of poor oral health on the treatment of those with certain chronic illnesses.

So, how do we win the Sugar Wars?

Education, access and prevention. We must be advocates for our communities and educate people about the importance of oral health and sugar intake for kids, work with leaders to increase access to care and prioritize preventive dental services that will address these issues head on.

At DentaQuest, we are committed to improving the oral health of our next generation by transforming the systems of care, finance, community and policy to achieve optimal oral health for all. We have already taken steps to achieve this vision by:
  • Working with our nation’s leaders to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides vital health coverage to kids across the country who wouldn’t otherwise have much-needed care.
  •  Creating and growing the Early Childhood Caries (ECC) Collaborative, a program piloted by the DentaQuest Institute that teaches medical providers about best practices for managing and preventing tooth decay in young children.
  • Encouraging our leaders to act on the Oral Health 2020 Goals, which are aggressive, industry-changing charges developed by the DentaQuest Foundation and the Oral Health 2020 national network to improve the oral health of all. Among others, we aim to:
    • Eradicate dental disease in children
    •  Incorporate oral health into the primary education system
Throughout the month of February and 2016, we are committed to elevating the importance of oral health in children, implementing preventive care models and improving oral health for the next generation.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

2015 in Review: The State of Dental Care

Looking back on my first year as CEO of DentaQuest, I am in awe of the milestones we have achieved as a nation to advance oral health care and humbled by the crucial role DentaQuest has played in support of the national oral health movement. With a particular focus on expanding access to dental services, goals were met, systems were put in place and new objectives were established.

Oral Health Research Developments

The Early Childhood Caries (ECC) Collaborative, initially launched in 2008 by the DentaQuest Institute, made serious headway this past year as the third phase came to completion.

Phase III testing sites implemented disease management protocol for patients ages 6 to 60, and worked to redesign their care delivery systems to ensure every child receives a caries risk assessment.

To complement this effort, care providers began collaborating with parents to prevent and manage their child’s risk of developing caries. By reinforcing updated treatment protocols and engaging parents to change behaviors, we can positively impact a child’s risk of disease. And, to date, preliminary results have indicated positive outcomes.

Another major DentaQuest Institute development that I blogged about recently is the Medical Oral Expanded Care (MORE Care) initiative

This pilot program equips doctors’ offices with the appropriate tools to provide preventive oral health services in South Carolina, connecting medical and dental practices to establish an integrated referral-based health system. The success of this program lays the foundation for similar programs to adopt this collaborative, holistic approach to a patient’s health.

New Oral Health Goals and Conversation

At the DentaQuest Foundation, the Oral Health 2020 initiative had another successful year. During its annual convening in the fall, the Foundation unveiled new and updated Oral Health 2020 goals, refining an existing goal to raise the number of children who will reach age 5 without a cavity from 75 percent to 85 percent.

Additionally, two new goals were added, aiming to integrate oral health into at least 50 percent of emerging person-centered care models, as well as improving the public perception of the value of oral health to overall health. Transforming the national conversation, the DentaQuest Foundation is constantly looking to break barriers and insert oral health into the overall health and wellness conversation.

Across the country, the Foundation also launched its Grassroots Engagement Strategy, providing grants to support local, community-based organizations. In Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the organizations are working to evaluate, integrate and provide oral health care and knowledge to immensely diverse populations.

The national movement begins at the community level, and we aim to support and enable organizations that align with our mission to advance the oral health of all.

Increased Access to Health Care

In 2015, we reached a major milestone when our vision program, eyeQuest, reached more than 1 million members. Currently in eight markets, eyeQuest offers a full line of vision and eye care services.

On the dental benefits side, we are proud to announce that we are currently serving 24 million members. As we continue to grow, we look forward to providing dental and vision care to many more people seeking high-quality, effective health solutions.

Last February marked the one-year anniversary of DentaQuest managing the Tennessee child dental Medicaid program, TennCare

Helping approximately 750,000 children, TennCare members benefit from lower costs, closer access to services and education on the importance of routine dental care. With the end of our second year quickly approaching, we are excited that we’ll soon be able to share new information about improved outcomes in Tennessee.

Across our organization, we have shared a common goal of creating partnerships to make a lasting impact on peoples’ health. As evidenced by programs such as TennCare, ECC and Oral Health 2020, establishing partnerships can lead to improved outcomes for everyone.

National Advances in Health Care

On April 16, 2015, President Obama officially extended the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two more years. The CHIP extension allocates approximately $20 billion over 10 years to states that help insure children in need.

By the end of 2015, a total of 31 states expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), providing affordable health insurance coverage options to adults through Medicaid in addition to the Health Insurance Exchanges.

In an effort to improve the health system, states and the federal government came to the table in 2015 to advance preventive oral health care. While it will take years to realize all of the benefits of this collaboration, these are very important steps on the path to improve oral heath in our nation.

One great example is the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services’ approval of Medi-Cal 2020 – the federal 1115 waiver that allocates funding for crucial health care advancements in California. The Medi-Cal 2020 waiver includes a Dental Transformation Initiative to bring much-needed improvements and changes to the dental care system throughout the state.

What’s Next for 2016

Looking to the year ahead, we must continue with this momentum. Despite the significant progress made last year and the continued focus on the importance of oral health, our work has only just started. 

As an election year, 2016 will certainly be an exciting one with many changes on the horizon. We must work together to build on our successes, foster strong partnerships and grow this oral health movement. Together we can transform the systems of care, finance, policy and community to achieve optimal oral – and overall –  health at the local, regional and national levels.