Video: Supporting children’s oral health by thinking beyond the dental office

By: Meg Booth

There’s no question that access to dental care is critical to helping children achieve optimal oral health. But many stakeholders outside of a dental office also have key parts to play, from doctors to social service providers. In this new, one-minute video, CDHP Director of Policy, Colin Reusch, explains how leveraging the role of community members who work with parents and children can give more families every opportunity to avoid tooth decay.

While advances under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Children's Health Insurance Program have made dental coverage and care more available and affordable, many families still face barriers to the tools that support good oral health. Due to systemic inequities in the health care system and in factors affecting family economic security, children of color and in struggling families experience higher rates of cavities than their white, wealthier peers. One way to make progress on closing these disparities is by meeting families and children where they are. As Reusch states, we must “look at incorporating oral health into the touchpoints that already exist” for parents and kids.

"Leveraging the role of community members who work with parents and children can give more families every opportunity to avoid tooth decay."

In addition to home visiting personnel, community health workers, and other sources of early childhood interventions, non-dental providers like pediatricians are often the first professionals to care for our children. Those earliest years are an essential time to place kids on a path toward good oral health. But the historic separation of medical and dental care poses a hurdle to improving oral health nationwide. A column recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (ADA) addressed this approach.

The author, Dr. Marko Vujicic, chief economist and vice president of the ADA’s Health Policy Institute (and also a CDHP board member), argues that better medical-dental integration is among the necessary steps to attain meaningful, “sustained improvements in oral health in the coming years, especially among those with the highest needs.”

Developing new ways to integrate these two fields could help place the long-term needs of children and families at the center. In addition, transitioning care delivery models to being outcomes-based would shift provider mindsets to being more focused on being part of a community of care for patients. It would inspire focus on improving their oral health rather than just treating symptoms of dental disease. As Vujicic puts it,“Instead of “What do I do?” providers [would] start to ask “What am I part of?”” Strengthening dental and medical coordination as part of a child’s care team is among the answers worth exploring to help end childhood tooth decay.

Our new video highlights the immense value of bolstering these connections and coordinating the other systems of care that families count on in their communities. It’s time to think beyond the dental office to support children’s oral health. By doing so, we can better ensure that families get the support and services they need to keep kids cavity-free.

Click here or the video image above to watch Keeping Kids Healthy: Thinking Beyond the Dental Office. 

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children ages 6-12 suffered a toothache in the previous six months.
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