Report Offers Blueprint for Equitable Oral Healthcare
Poor oral health reduces the economic vitality of American society by increasing healthcare costs and limiting participation in the workforce. This is a key finding in “Oral Health in America: Implications for Dental Practice,” a report appearing in The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). The paper highlights key elements of a larger report, “Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges,” released by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and National Institutes of Health.
The article provides a sweeping assessment of changes in the state of oral health since the United States Surgeon General’s seminal report on oral health in 2000. In spite of improvements in care over the past 22 years, inequities remain, the JADA authors note, adding that “many low-income and minority adults lack dental insurance, and, as a consequence, only seek care for emergency needs.”
Data show the number of people obtaining dental services at Federally Qualified Health Centers increased from 1.4 million to 5.2 million between 2001 and 2020. Furthermore, in 2017, one-third of these patients were younger than 18; and, among this group, 88.5% were Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries. The authors suggest that in addition to improving access to care, stakeholders should advocate for more efficient delivery models and send a cohesive message that oral care is an essential healthcare service.
The report analyzes factors affecting the nation’s oral health, including the need to integrate oral and medical healthcare, improve insurance coverage and financing, and consider unmet needs in dental workforce planning. Key strategies offered to improve equitable care include:
- Making dental services an essential benefit in both private and public insurance programs
- Incorporating dental care demands into workforce planning
- Increasing integration of oral and medical care delivery
With the goal of raising awareness of the importance of disease prevention and implementing policies aimed at ensuring equitable care, dental professionals and other stakeholders are encouraged to work to improve access, reduce costs, and implement care models designed to support positive, patient-centered outcomes.