Yes, There is Hope for Our Failing System
Our current oral health care system is failing millions of Americans. And it’s my business to understand this. At DentaQuest, we look for problems, work to understand why they exist, and then do our best to develop and implement solutions – that’s just part of our DNA. But we don’t pretend to have all the answers, and sometimes we need to do a pulse check.
That’s why we recently commissioned a unique research study that took a 360-degree approach, polling more than 2,300 Americans including dentists, physicians, patients, employee benefits administrators and Medicaid dental administrators. What we found in "Reversible Decay: Oral Health Is A Public Health Problem We Can Solve" was remarkable consistency across all groups – not only on their views of the problems with oral health, but also on potential solutions.
Many of the findings confirm what we suspected all along – that oral health is in fact a significant issue for Americans and that there is broad support for specific ways to improve the system. There were also some results that surprised me, including the following:
- Nearly all respondents agree that oral health is important for attaining overall health. And yet, three in four Americans say they have experienced barriers to accessing dental care – most commonly high costs and lack of insurance coverage; and
- More than half of Americans say the oral health system is either scary, confusing, inconvenient or ineffective.
- Half of Americans rate oral health as a personal health concern, making it the top concern over heart, eye, skin, digestive, and even mental health. And yet, four in ten have not seen a dentist in the past year.
- 80% of Americans believe that Medicare should include dental benefits. And yet, 62% are either not sure – or incorrectly believe that it currently does cover dental. The fact is that it does not.
We knew we’d likely uncover some serious challenges, so we also asked people about potential solutions. And we found strong support for several that are both promising – and achievable:
- Prioritizing Preventive Care: All stakeholders agree that preventive dentistry is important.
- Greater Medical-Dental Integration: Dentists, physicians, employers and Medicaid dental administrators agree that greater collaboration across medical and dental providers would improve patient care.
- Expanded Access to Care: Both patients and dentists see value in expanding care beyond the dental chair in alternative settings like schools and community centers.
- Comprehensive Adult Benefits: Most Medicaid dental administrators agree that comprehensive dental coverage in public programs would help prevent disease related to untreated oral health issues and improve the health of their state populations.
- Value-Based Care Models: Nearly half of patients think dental benefits should pay for procedures based primarily on the impact it will have on overall health, not on the procedures’ total cost. And 87% of employers are interested in the same design.
The alignment I see on solutions like these gives me hope. It also reminds me why I love being at a company that sees a problem, then sets out to fix it. I’m not naïve about the significant effort it will take to drive the necessary improvements, but I am optimistic. Our research validated what we at DentaQuest already knew to be true: by working together, we really can improve the oral health of all.
Sincere thanks for reading to the end. I’m interested in your thoughts and reactions, so please add your comments to this post. I also encourage you to read and share the full report. Look for additional posts from my DentaQuest colleagues, discussing more ideas on how we can tackle each of these challenges.