Report Shows Modest Increase in Dental Visits
As dentistry becomes more evidence-based, it’s hoped that patients will receive similar care for similar conditions, regardless of where they are treated.
In March, the Government Accounting Office updated its report to Congress on health care funding and the federal government’s expenditures to select organizations. Among the data were the number of dental visits to federally qualified health centers (FQHC), which increased by more than 2.5 million between 2012 (the data year in its last report) and 2015 (the most recent measurement year). In addition, dental visits as a share of total FQHC visits ticked up by less than a percentage point. While that’s not much, it was the largest increase after mental health visits, which rose by 1.2 percentage points.1,2
Funded by government grants to provide care to underserved populations, FQHCs are required to offer basic preventive dental care, such as oral hygiene instruction, prophylaxis and fluoride treatments. However, they can refer out these services. As a result, FQHC patients may still have unmet oral health needs, because getting to a dental office that is not colocated at the health clinic can be challenging for people who already have problems getting the care they need. A University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study found that despite efforts to increase FQHC dental visits, only 21% of the FQHC patients they researched actually received dental services in 2015.3
But help could be on the horizon. In February, the House passed the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017 (H.R. 2422) by an overwhelming 387 to 13 vote.* At presstime, the bill is under consideration by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Should H.R. 2422 pass in the Senate, it would provide funding for efforts to improve oral health (especially in underserved populations), reduce emergency departments visits for dental problems, and establish dental homes for children and adults.
Currently, only about 2% of the dental workforce provides care within FQHCs, according to the American Dental Association.4 However, if more FQHCs were to colocate dental services with medical services, as the UCLA researchers recommend, this could increase opportunities for young dentists (FQHC jobs come with up to $50,000 toward student loan repayment), while also improving overall community oral health.
* Thirty members did not vote.
- Government Accounting Office. Congressional requesters health care funding: Federal obligations to and expenditures by selected organizations involved in healthrelated activities, fiscal years 2013–2015. Washington, D.C.: GAO; March 6, 2018. Table 6.
- Government Accounting Office. Congressional requesters health care funding: Federal obligations to and expenditures by selected entities involved in health-related activities, 2010–2012. Washington, D.C.: GAO; March 20, 2015. Table 8.
- Crall JJ, Pourat N, Inkelas M, Lampron C, Scoville R. Improving the oral health care capacity of federally qualified health centers. Health Affairs. 2016;35:12.
- American Dental Association. Federally Qualified Health Centers FAQ. Available at: ada.org/en/public-programs/action-for-dental-health/access-to-care/federally-qualifiedhealth- centers-faq. Accessed March 15, 2018.From Decisions in Dentistry. April 2018;4(4):60.
From Decisions in Dentistry. April 2018;4(4):60.