In 2015, Health Forward is celebrating 10 Years of Grantmaking. But we are nothing without the organizations that work every day on eliminating barriers to quality health in our community. To mark this milestone, we are launching a special series — A Healthy 10. Each month we’ll highlight one of 10 areas of health that saw progress in the past decade. September focuses on oral health.
It’s been a little more than 10 years since the surgeon general called oral health disease a “silent epidemic.” The 2000 landmark report said oral health care is often “excluded from our thinking about health. Taken together with vision care and mental health care, it seems that problems above the neck are commonly regarded as peripheral to health care and health care policy.”
Today, unfortunately, the situation largely remains unchanged with many people experiencing poor oral health and inadequate access to the oral health care system. Dental caries continues to be one of the most prevalent diseases of childhood, even more than asthma. And oral diseases remain prevalent across all groups, especially in vulnerable and underserved populations.
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But in our region there is a growing recognition that the mouth is indeed, part of the body, and progress has been made to improve oral health in our community. Oral health has been transformed from an afterthought to an increasingly salient public health issue.
Increased oral care capacity, improved collaboration among safety net providers and a growing awareness of the relationship between oral and general health have all helped push oral health to the forefront of public health over the past decade.
And while the supply of oral health safety net services in our region still falls short of demand, we’ve been able to increase service to thousands who previously have done without.
Between 2006 and 2015, the number of safety net providers in Kansas increased from 9 to 22 and in Missouri, the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers offering oral health jumped from 39 in 2008 to 79 in 2015.
The passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) – coupled with a better understanding of the links between poor oral health and diseases that affect the body – have helped spur the integration of primary care and oral health. Throughout the safety net community, a growing spirit of collaboration is fueling new synergies and opportunities. Clinics increasingly are working together to coordinate efforts and match resources. Oral health programs are being integrated with primary care through patient-centered medical homes. New relationships between local dental schools and safety-net providers are enabling dental students to have rotations in practices that serve low-income patients.
In addition to new general service clinics, the area has also benefited from an expansion in dental care access for special needs and elderly populations including mobile dental clinics and school-based services.
At the same time, well-organized oral health advocacy efforts have scored important policy successes in Missouri and Kansas — most notably, the inclusion of dental benefits for adults in Missouri’s Medicaid program.
We know that oral health extends well beyond the mouth – it affects the entire body. By supporting community partners, we’re able to raise awareness about the benefits of dental care while also making it more available to those who need it most.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.