12:24 PM

Charting a New Path for Oral Health Care

The CareQuest Institute for Oral Health recently conducted a large national survey to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the health of communities across our country. The goal was to understand how the pandemic has shaped perceptions, behaviors, and outcomes in the past year.

The results were clear: serious challenges in health care lie ahead as the pandemic recedes.

Before we talk more about the details of the survey, an important announcement: CareQuest Institute for Oral Health officially launches to the world today!

CareQuest Institute is national nonprofit championing a more equitable future where every person can reach their full potential through excellent health. By expanding upon the strengths of the DentaQuest Foundation, DentaQuest Institute, and DentaQuest Partnership, it aims to create a more equitable, accessible, and integrated system for everyone. The Institute will do this, of course, through partnership — partnership with thought leaders, health care providers, patients, and stakeholders at all levels to change oral health care.

Why do all this?

Our health care system doesn’t work for everyone because it wasn’t built for everyone. CareQuest Institute is going to help change that and address the deep disparities that have existed for generations — the same disparities that the survey mentioned above revealed.

In the next several months, according to the survey, our health system could face a tsunami of patients with severe health issues that have gone untreated over the last year. Roughly 6 million adult Americans lost their dental insurance due to the pandemic and nearly two-thirds of them have a symptom that is frequently linked to oral diseases, such as tooth decay and periodontal disease. Many others have canceled or put off important preventive care in the last year — in fact, nearly 4 in 10 adults (38%) have delayed care because of concerns ranging from cost and lacking insurance to risk of exposure to the virus. Given the direct link between oral health and a variety of chronic health conditions, the anticipated rise in oral diseases has serious implications for the broader health care system.  

The data also reinforces what became very clear early in the pandemic: low-income and minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by this virus. In fact, according to the survey, 60% of Black respondents said they knew someone personally who has died from COVID-19. The higher a respondent’s income level, the less likely they were to know someone who has died from COVID-19. 

Addressing those inequities — through research, grantmaking, education, advocacy and improvement programs — will be the focus at CareQuest Institute. It will work to address the longstanding barriers to dental care and affordable health coverage that have created significant unmet oral health needs, disproportionately felt by underserved communities.  

The federal government’s decision to reopen the health care marketplace for three months and extend open enrollment will help a lot of people this year. But the fact remains, most state Medicaid programs do not cover comprehensive dental services, even though low-income Americans are at greater risk for oral disease. And Medicare has never covered routine oral health care.

There’s work to do.

Our health system must be better connected, embracing holistic, integrated care. And we must continue to advance and embrace technology, innovations, and approaches that allow us to deliver care to those who need it. The explosion of telehealth in the last year brings tremendous opportunity to make oral health care more accessible, affordable, and integrated, while innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to transform health care and make it more efficient and equitable. 

All of this brings us to an inflection point right now that demands action. And CareQuest Institute will be putting everything it has into solving these issues and driving progress toward a health system that works for everyone.

Learn more about CareQuest Institute at carequest.org.