Oral health is essential to overall health. Yet, for decades, the medical and dental professions have practiced in their own separate spheres, rarely working together to coordinate to improve care for their patients.
My hope is that may be changing – at least here in New Mexico.
Recently, at the New Mexico Health Resources (NMHR) annual provider retreat in Taos, I was struck by how many presenters — medical and dental professionals alike — focused on opportunities for medicine and dentistry to work together in diagnosing and treating patients. I’m encouraged that we will see more action among healthcare professionals, provider groups, payers and others to collaborate on improving the health of all New Mexicans and expanding access to these necessary healthcare services.
Following is a quick summary of several key presentations from the retreat.
Diabetes Management & Treatment at the Dentist’s Office - According to Gary Cuttrell, MD, DDS, JD, University of New Mexico division chief for dental services, 60% of Americans see a dentist once a year. For many people, this is more often than they see their primary care physician. This presents a unique opportunity for dentists, hygienists and other dental professionals to use their training and education to provide basic non-invasive diabetes screenings for diagnosing, referring and helping patients manage diabetes.
Application of Fluoride Varnish In Primary Care Settings – Many presenters suggested that, with some additional training, health professionals in primary care medical practices could apply fluoride varnish to patients’ teeth to prevent further tooth decay and ultimately avert the long-term health problems of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes that can be caused by poor oral health.
Perinatal Dental Care Coordination between Obstetricians and Dental Practices - Irene Hilton, DDS, MPH, presented compelling reasons for obstetrical and dental professionals to collectively reach out to and treat women early in their pregnancies. From the start, a pregnant woman passes on whatever dental disease she may have to her child. Ideally, a woman will have seen a dentist before she is pregnant, but, if not, she should see one within the first 10 weeks.
According to Dr. Hilton, pregnant women are more open to seeking care and following a care plan. This is a good opportunity, for the obstetrician and dentist to collaborate on reinforcing good oral health habits for the mother, who hopefully will instill them in her child. Unfortunately, some women may not see a dentist until the end of their pregnancy and, as a result, they may fail to get all the treatments they need. This is particularly problematic for women covered by Medicaid, because once they give birth, they no longer have their own dental coverage.
I am encouraged by these discussions, and I’m sure there are other opportunities for medical and dental professional to work together for the benefit of their patients. Let’s break down those silos, so that all New Mexicans can enjoy good health!