For decades (at least since 1995 according to this report from the American Heart Association) health experts have been calling for more integration between dentistry and medical health care. That’s because besides losing your teeth, oral health is important to a person’s overall well-being. Oral exams can detect the symptoms of medical conditions in the mouth as well as other parts of the body. And poor dental hygiene has been linked to kidney and heart disease and low birth weights. There are ongoing investigations into these links.
That said, roughly 60% of Americans don’t go to the dentist annually. In most cases it’s because they can’t afford it. Significant racial, ethnic and economic disparities exist because of cost and access to care.
Healthy States’ third “Hacking Health Care” event brought together a diverse group of young people to come up with solutions to this, and other important problems in health care. We asked: What can be done to make oral care more of a priority in overall health?
Their response? SIMPLIFY! Integrate dental and medical care and coverage.
First, hackers said it would be much easier to think about oral care if doctors asked about it during medical visits. They already ask all sorts of intimate questions about healthy habits, so throw a few in there about brushing and flossing. It would help make the connection between oral health and overall well-being.
Turns out this is an idea backed by – among others – the American Heart Association.
It is clear that viewing oral health as separate from general health has become obsolete. Challenges to our understanding of oral and systemic disease connections arise in part from the compartmentalization of dental care and medical care that exists in the United States.
Second, hackers want one insurance plan to cover both oral and medical services. Again, they’re on to something here. A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 45 million Americans have no dental coverage. And those without coverage generally go without care. Experts agree that more people would go the dentist regularly if their visits were covered by medical insurance.
Lastly, hackers want to dentists to be more visible. Be at clinics located in pharmacies and urgent care centers and have pop-up dental events staffed by dental students at work sites and at schools. In other words, dentists need to get out the office and go where the people are.
This Hacking Health Care event was made possible in part by Delta Dental of Minnesota.