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OHWRC Reveals Best Innovations in Oral Healthcare Delivery

Lack of access to dental care for residents living in underserved communities remains a public health challenge for many Americans.

Lack of access to dental care for residents living in underserved communities remains a public health challenge for many Americans. Among other conditions, poor oral health, including periodontitis, is associated with health problems, such as premature birth and cardiovascular disease. For this reason, oral health professionals, organizations and advocates have implemented innovative methods to provide children, adults, and older adults with access to oral healthcare.

In the new Compendium of Innovations in Oral Health Service Delivery, the Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany’s School of Public Health summarizes best practices in oral healthcare delivery. The compendium was drawn from more than 40 case studies conducted by OHWRC in recent years.

“Access to oral health services is acknowledged as a public health problem that is difficult to address due to multiple factors that impact the public’s ability to obtain dental services,” says Margaret Langelier, MSHA, co-deputy director of OHWRC. “Stakeholders throughout the United States are interested in innovations that effectively mediate such barriers to care. These providers are extending the dental home by bringing services to patients, rather than expecting patients to travel to services.”

Organizations included in the brief were early adopters of teledentistry services, mobile/portable dentistry, oral health integration with primary care, and integration of primary care, oral health and behavioral health services. The providers used these strategies to provide services to patients in community-based settings, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), schools and nursing homes.

FQHCs listed in the compendium for best practices include seven for the integration of oral health and primary care; five for teledentistry; seven for mobile and portable dentistry; and six that integrated primary care, oral health, and behavioral health services.

The compendium also includes basic information about the problems that innovative organizations encountered, the potential solutions they selected, the difficulties they confronted during implementation, and the outcomes. The overarching goal is to provide those seeking new ideas or those needing help with actualizing an inventive solution, according to Langelier.

The benefits of implementing these strategies removed several barriers to care. Because patients with mental health problems may have trouble maintaining proper dental hygiene or experience oral side effects from medications, integrating primary care, oral health, and behavioral health services allowed dental and medical professionals to follow these individuals and provide treatment and counseling.

Centers that provided oral healthcare via mobile and portable dentistry served patients who are homebound or have limited transportation. These methods allowed dentists and dental hygienists to treat patients in nursing homes, at schools, and allow dental staff to conduct follow-up visits with those who need treatment. Teledentistry also removed any transportation barriers, as patients experienced face-to-face consultations by videoconference.

“Perhaps one of the most obvious outcomes is these innovations are moving care out of small, private dental offices into communities where services were not previously widely available or easily accessed. While private dental practices will likely remain the mode of service delivery in the near future, offering services in the community in different locations, including medical practices, will improve access,” says Langelier. “Patient outcomes should also improve from efforts to integrate oral, physical, and mental health, which are systemic components of well-being.”

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