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Here’s How We Can Improve Health Equity Together

posted by Mike Enright, DentaQuest

on December 3, 2020

Oral health integration is a critical piece of the puzzle

Deamonte Driver was 12 years old when he lost his life after being unable to find a dentist who accepted Medicaid. Without other dental insurance or financial means, he was forced to deal with the pain in his mouth and simply wait it out. Bacteria from an abscessed tooth eventually spread to his brain, and after six weeks in the hospital and two surgeries, Deamonte died.

More than a decade ago, this child died because he lacked access to critical care. No one, no matter how old, should ever die from an untreated toothache – certainly not in one of the most medically advanced countries in the world.

Connecting the mouth and the body

Every year, we spend billions of dollars in preventable health care dollars on depression ($210 billion), diabetes ($327 billion) and obesity ($480 billion). Despite this, we still aren’t addressing dental disease, which can lead to and exacerbate health conditions. Together, we must recognize that we cannot truly address disparities in health care without focusing on oral health.

Solutions and the case for dental coverage

Improving access to dental care involves empowering patients and educating people about the direct link between oral health and overall health.

DentaQuest continues to work with providers and other partners to advance progress toward integrating medical, dental, and behavioral health, as well as to leverage technology like teledentistry as not just a crisis tool but a long-term solution to increase access, improve outcomes, and reduce costs. Emergency departments are the least cost-effective means for dental care, so we continue to advocate for states to protect and expand adult dental benefits in their Medicaid programs. In more than 30 states, Medicaid covers only limited dental benefits, emergency-only coverage or none at all. A universal standard across all states would help close the racial disparity gap and ensure access to oral care.

But how can we ensure these solutions lead to improvements for everyone? We need a new approach.

A new roadmap for the future

The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement recently unveiled a Three Domain Framework that creates a primary care-like structure for oral health care delivery. It facilitates value-based payment models, empowers patients to invest in their own oral health, and advances teledentistry to create access for all patients across the country.

More than 120 of the oral health care industry’s most prominent leaders and organizations, including the American Dental Association, National Dental Association, and Hispanic Dental Association, contributed to the report. Other contributors included UPMC Health Plan, CareSource, several state departments of health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and universities from around the world.

This Framework delivers a path forward to expand care access and improve health outcomes while reducing the cost burdens associated with poor quality of life due to oral disease. Ultimately, we need to think more broadly about care and expand oral care beyond the dental office — in schools, homes, and our communities. We need to reimagine the patient experience as a consumer experience. And we need to focus on prevention first.

We need to tackle change as one health system. What will it take to improve access and quality of oral care for Americans, especially for the most vulnerable?

Join DentaQuest and POLITICO on Thursday, Dec. 10 at noon ET, for a deep-dive conversation with leading health care experts to explore the challenges in oral care disparities and the policies and strategies that can help solve them.

To learn more about the Three Domains Framework or ways to collaborate with DentaQuest, contact Mike Enright at michael.enright@dentaquest.com.