AGD has long been a proponent of removing the barriers that limit the underserved from seeking and receiving quality oral health care. In 2008, AGD created its first white paper on oral health care issues, “White Paper on Increasing Access to and Utilization of Oral Health Care Services” This was followed in 2012 by the white paper, “Barriers and Solutions to Accessing Care.” Both outline the challenges to bettering the state of oral health and provide more than 30 proven solutions to increasing care. 

Oral Health Literacy

The public remains largely unaware of the connection between oral health and overall well-being. Oral disease left untreated can result in pain, disfigurement, loss of school and work days, nutrition problems, expensive emergency department use for preventable dental conditions and even death. Reducing the incidence of dental disease among America’s children through oral health literacy needs to be embraced by schools and school systems, since it can boost students’ academic performance, improve their overall health and lessen the burden of parents, caregivers and the dental Medicaid system. To that end, AGD developed language on improving oral health literacy that was later adopted as a model resolution by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

However, a patient’s awareness of the importance of his or her oral health is not the same as actually seeking or receiving care. AGD understands that we need to turn oral health literacy into healthy behaviors and patient action. Education must be coupled with addressing the psychological factors that may inhibit some from seeking oral health care. This includes:

Helping the public understand that most prevalent dental diseases are entirely preventable, and prevention is relatively inexpensive. A prevention model encourages regular check-ups to detect problems before they become bigger, more costly difficulties.

Ensuring that health care delivery considers cultural diversities that might affect patient perceptions.

Establishing patient navigators within communities to provide hands-on education about oral health and provide social services, including transportation, to convert health literacy into action.

AGD urges Congress to make oral health literacy a priority public health concern, leading to increased funding and other practical support for oral health literacy related education, research and interventions.

Provider Distribution

There are a variety of programs to bring dentists to areas that do not have practicing full-time dentists. Dental Loan Repayment Programs for dental students to practice in areas where there is no dentist upon graduation is one such example. 

AGD understands that other factors must be considered when talking about underserved areas of the state. The issue is not just about a lack of dentists in a particular county, but also about practice capacity. Sparsely populated counties, such as those with fewer than 1,000 residents, would be better served by mobile dental units, provision of transportation services, community health clinics and use of patient navigators.

AGD supports proven solutions of establishing oral health care-delivery service programs, including arranging for transportation to and from care centers, delivering care via mobile dentistry units and soliciting volunteer participation from the private sector, through programs such as Missions of Mercy.

Conclusion

As state and federal lawmakers seek out solutions to improve the status of our nation’s oral health, AGD stands ready to work with them. The matter is complex, but there are a variety of ways to combat the current barriers to better oral health care, including oral health literacy, dental loan repayment options and breaking down the psychological factors that keep people from seeing a dentist. The bottom line is that we must remain focused on the best interests of the patient. Dentistry works best as a prevention system, with a dental team providing care from start to finish.

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