Integrating Oral Health & Overall Health

Oral health preventive care should be part of whole person care.

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Engaging primary care medical providers in oral health

Oral health is essential to overall health.  For too long oral health has been separated from overall health.  It’s time to “put the mouth back into the body” by treating the whole person. Oral health is rarely addressed in primary care, even though dental disease is a highly prevalent chronic disease.  That is one reason why oral health is a top unmet health need in the country, and in Washington State.

To keep people healthy, all health professionals should pay attention to oral health

Increasingly healthcare systems are focused on population health and delivering value defined by improved health outcomes. This means moving upstream with preventive care, closing gaps in care, and payment models that incent keeping people healthy, rather than treating them only after they are sick.  

This trend toward whole person care and preventing disease creates opportunities and incentives to ensure that oral health preventive services are included in primary care, particularly for high-risk patients such as pregnant women and people with diabetes. Oral disease is linked to many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Oral disease is largely preventable and prevention improves health.  Ensuring that all health professionals pay attention to oral health will lead to improved population health.  

Oral health preventive care should be part of “whole person” care delivered in primary medical care settings. That’s why we:

  • Train medical teams to address their patients’ oral health.  This includes screening for oral disease to catch it early and referring patients to dental care, delivering topical fluoride for patients at risk, and educating patients and families about the importance of good oral health and its connection to overall health.  For patients who qualify, Apple Health (Medicaid) reimburses for these services.
  • Provide the tools and technical assistance medical practices need to integrate oral health preventive services into a busy primary care visit.
  • Work to ensure that oral health is included in health professional training programs so that the next generation of healthcare providers learns that good health must include a healthy mouth, and are prepared to address their patients’ oral health.  
  • Collaborate with Accountable Communities of Health throughout the state to support the integration of oral health into health transformation activities that result in whole person models of care and improved health equity.  
  •  Partner with care delivery systems to implement models for integrated medical-dental care and population oral health. 

To learn more about this work, contact Glenn Puckett.

For healthcare professionals:

  • Read the vision for incorporating oral health into primary care
  • Review the Smiles for Life curricula
  • Order free oral health educational materials

To find out more or schedule a training, contact Madlen Caplow.