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Dental Health Linked to Overall Health

January 30, 2012

ARRINGTON, Va. - Advocates for dental health will be in Richmond on Tuesday to ask state lawmakers to keep funding in place for dental clinics.

If a person has good teeth, chances are he or she also has good overall health, and Virginia health-care providers want to make sure legislators understand that connection.

More primary-care doctors and dentists are coordinating their services for the benefit of their patients.

Peggy Whitehead, executive director of Blue Ridge Medical Center, a community health center that serves thousands of patients, many without health insurance, says her center partners with The Free Clinic of Central Virginia to provide dental treatment and plans to combine dental and medical care under one roof.

"The goal is to integrate dental care with primary care and behavioral-health services, in order to provide a comprehensive approach to health care for our patients."

For many people, Whitehead says, dental care takes a back seat to other types of medical care, primarily because of lack of insurance. Even those who have health-care coverage are not always covered for dental.

"The idea of actually going to a dentist to spend money is not even on the radar screen of a lot of the people who really need that care."

It's important for doctors to have an entire picture of each patient, Whitehead says, and poor dental care can lead to a variety of expensive, chronic health problems including heart disease, diabetes and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Affordable, preventive dental care can help people avoid those costly health issues down the road, Whitehead says. Safety-net providers and oral-health advocates plan to make the same case this week in Richmond, asking that legislators support a budget which doesn't cut dental health-related funding for vulnerable Virginians.

VA Oral Health Coalition Legislative Day activities will be held from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in Room 5E of the General Assembly building, 910 Capitol St.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA