09:32 AM

Good Health Starts in Your Mouth, and Investing in Oral Health Can’t Wait

For too long, the United States has viewed the way we receive and pay for oral care as being completely separate from the way we prevent and treat our overall health needs. Like behavioral health before it, oral health has been neglected and siloed from the rest of the health care ecosystem.

As a result, the nation that spends the most on healthcare isn’t nearly as healthy as it should be. That must change.

Studies show more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t. Poor oral health is linked to serious medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. And each year, more than $6 billion is lost in productivity due to people missing work for dental issues.

Yet despite this reality, oral health has been left out of national initiatives to change our health insurance system - like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and reforms to Medicare. It’s too often an afterthought, despite the significant potential cost savings that could be achieved with changes. A September 2018 bipartisan letter from 28 US senators urging dental coverage be made available to Medicare recipients suggested this could generate savings of $63.5 billion over 10 years.

It’s likely that healthcare, on a policy level, will be an area of increased focus over the next several years – and it’s imperative that oral health is an integral component of that conversation.

Investing in oral health transformation

As policy discussions unfold, foundations and funders have a unique opportunity to play a larger role in supporting nonprofits and research organizations focused on oral health. Through the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, we are working to address what we know to be underinvested areas of oral health that are critical to providing better care to more people.

Since 2009, we have provided more than $220 million in funding for research, care improvement initiatives and grants to improve oral health. Our investments in hundreds of organizations across all 50 states have helped improve access and outcomes for many.

As we look to the future, DentaQuest is committed to investing in areas where our organizational strengths and expertise can meet the challenge:

  • Establish a single, national oral health measurement system. We need complete and consistent oral health data to measure everyone by the same standards, allowing us to better target resources and interventions and to measure progress. If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.
  • Advocate for a public adult dental benefit to expand access to adults. For low-income adults on Medicaid, dental coverage is optional and varies widely across states. Some provide coverage for emergency procedures only; others provide no coverage at all. And with just a few exceptions, Medicare doesn’t provide coverage either, as most adults are unhappily surprised to learn. So the preventative care that is so critical to better oral – and overall – health goes missing.
  • Support person-centered care that will transform the oral health industry. This includes both a value-based care model and interprofessional practice. While the value-based care model is advancing in primary healthcare, it’s struggling to get traction in oral health. We need to change the way dentists and other providers are reimbursed with a focus on quality outcomes, not the volume of care provided. We must also make it easier for multiple caregivers to work collaboratively, within and across settings, to improve the quality of care. By putting people at the center, we will strengthen the system and ensure quality care for more people at a lower cost.

A call to action for better oral health

This is where the DentaQuest Partnership is focused, but more engagement and investment is needed. Real change in oral health will require broad participation from both oral health companies and new funders who understand the importance of making oral health a priority. So, if you are passionate about our children’s education, oral health matters to you. If you believe that the nation that spends the most on healthcare isn’t nearly as healthy as it should be, oral health matters to you. If you understand that positive changes can be made – today – then oral health matters to you.

Together, by making strategic investments in oral health with the larger healthcare community, we can improve oral health and overall wellness – not just for some, but for all.

Read about the DentaQuest Partnership's Q1 2019 Investments in Oral Health Initiatives.

Originally published by Alison Corcoran on LinkedIn