Oral Health Is Key To Overall Health

by Natalia I. Chalmers, DentaQuest Institute

September 28, 2017

Although oral health is often overlooked, it’s important that we integrate medical care and dental care in our health system as we transition to value-based care models and effective, person-centered solutions.

Oral health can play a critical role in improving overall health outcomes and the patient experience, while concurrently reducing their medical treatment costs, known as the triple aim. In an editorial in the Journal of the American Dental Association, the DentaQuest Institute explores oral health’s potential to achieve this triple aim.

Leveraging national dental utilization data and self-rated overall health data, the DentaQuest Institute demonstrates the direct correlation between adults who are more likely to visit the dentist and states with the fewest individuals who report fair or poor overall health. This is important because research has shown that a person’s perception of their health status provides meaningful insight into their general health and serves as a guide to future outcomes.

In addition to a better patient experience, dental services can improve overall health outcomes for patients.

Dentists can play an important role in the systemic health of their patients beyond the stabilization and prevention of oral disease. Because many medical conditions can be first observed intra-orally (i.e., autoimmune diseases like lupus or blood conditions such as anemia), dentists are well-positioned to help facilitate early diagnosis and treatment. In fact, the use of screening processes to identify systemic disease indicators during a dental visit has grown over the last decade. Physicians have also responded favorably to medical screenings in dental care settings with subsequent referrals.

Moreover, oral disease shares risk factors with other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease. New population-based frameworks are starting to recognize the value in integrating oral health strategies with those for chronic conditions.

The integration of medical and dental care has evidence-based benefits for the patient and the clinician. But integrated care models will only surface if they can demonstrate financial sustainability and reduce systemic costs.

Fortunately, more and more research illustrates the cost-effectiveness of medical-dental collaboration. A few examples include:

  • For insured patients, dental treatment was associated with lower medical costs.
  • Newly diagnosed patients with diabetes who also received periodontal intervention had lower average total health, medical, and diabetes-related costs over time.
  • Treatment of gum disease can lead to better health management as evidenced by lower healthcare costs and fewer hospitalizations among people with common health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy.

These cost-saving results will be crucial going forward as states, health plans, and health systems are tasked with achieving more with fewer dollars.

New, innovative models of care that integrate all aspects of a patient’s health, particularly oral health, are essential to improve outcomes, reduce costs, and transform the patient experience. Improving the overall health of the United States population cannot be achieved without improving their oral health.

Natalia I. Chalmers, DDS, PhD, is director of Analytics and Publication at DentaQuest Institute.