What are Social Determinants of Health?
How we approach health – health-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors – and our individual circumstances – access to healthy food, housing stability, education, employment, clean air, clean water – are significant contributors to our overall health. These types of factors are commonly called social determinants of health (SDOH). Though they might not definitively determine a person’s health status, SDOH do have a direct and significant impact on oral health and overall health.
We see – perhaps most visibly – the effects among people we serve who have Medicaid. For example, many families living in poverty struggle with food insecurity. A lack of healthy foods increases the likelihood for developing oral disease. It also makes it harder to maintain a chronic illness like diabetes, which itself can lead to gum disease if left untreated.
Add to that common transportation obstacles, and it becomes nearly impossible to get help from a dentist or other health care provider. Very quickly these life factors – poverty, poor nutrition, lack of transportation – stack up negatively against our health.
Many SDOH require large scale change from policy to infrastructure for improvement, but there are important ways to mitigate SDOH for many Americans. DentaQuest is exploring initiatives such as transportation assistance, additional training for our teams, and case management strategies as ways to help our members and communities.
One training program, called Bridges Out of Poverty, is helping our employees understand the social factors that patients may face and how all the pieces fit together. This generates empathy when we naturally would feel frustration for things like delayed care.
DentaQuest is also working to expand and track extended office hours for providers in our network. Evening and weekend availability enable members to schedule appointments that don’t interfere with work or school and helps divert members with dental emergencies from hospital emergency departments.
As DentaQuest takes a systems-based approach to improving the oral health of all, adopting a broad view of health and thinking about “upstream interventions” intended to address SDOH remains important.
Our Preventistry approach is focused on thinking about oral health not only in terms of an interaction with a dentist but also because of life circumstances – where one lives, works and plays and the ability to access healthy foods, housing, transportation, education and more.
Recognizing and addressing SDOH is an important part of the work we’re doing to improve the oral health of all.