We know there is a strong connection between good oral health and overall health, and KOHC has continued to advocate for a more integrated approach to medical and dental care. Integrating dental and medical care for children can improve health outcomes because tooth decay has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other adverse medical conditions. A recent study examining well-child visits and preventative dental visits showed that Medicaid-enrolled children who received an oral examination during their well-child visit were more likely to access a dentist for preventative visits.
A small percentage of children receiving oral exams at a well-child visit also received a dental diagnosis. Results also showed that most Latinx children had a preventative dental visit within one year after a well-child visit, while just under half of all white and black children had a preventative visit. Children age 5-9 were the quickest to receive a preventative dental visit following a well-care visit followed by ages 10-14. These findings support the need for integrating preventive dental services into routine medical care settings as a way to improve oral and overall health outcomes. To effectively incorporate dental services into their primary care practices, see suggestions below.
- Assist parents in completing an oral health risk assessment—the American Academy of Pediatrics offers downloadable tools and resources for use.
- Apply fluoride varnish, and follow-up service requirements after the physician’s oral exam—application of the varnish and how to integrate oral health services into a medical clinic can be learned through the Smiles for Life curriculum. In Kentucky, physicians are eligible for a reimbursement of $15 from Medicaid for fluoride varnish services for 1 to 5-year-olds up to two times in 12 months. Fluoride varnish is an effective preventive oral health service, especially for children in need.
- Provide patient nutrition and oral hygiene education and counseling, which can be added to the practice’s website or printed off from resources such as the American Dental Association and the Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Medical-dental integration is a great way to screen for oral health problems, refer to dental professionals, and inform parents on the importance of oral health. Optimal oral health can lead to better overall health outcomes for both children and adults throughout their lifetime.