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Bridging the Divide Between Oral and Medical Health

Researchers and consumers took part in a Thursday forum in Boston that focused on ways to better integrate oral and medical healthcare. (U.S. Navy Photo)
Researchers and consumers took part in a Thursday forum in Boston that focused on ways to better integrate oral and medical healthcare. (U.S. Navy Photo)
October 7, 2016

BOSTON – What if your doctor and your dentist were able to work together? That was one of the topics at a forum on Integration of Oral Health and General Health on Thursday.

Brian Rosman, director of policy and government relations at Health Care For All Massachusetts, pointed out there are completely separate systems for medical care and dental care, even though there are clear connections between good oral health and good overall health.

He said the divide results in too many Commonwealth residents of all ages missing out on the oral-health aspects of their care.

"So an example, for kids in MassHealth, which is our Medicaid program, last year, just 53 percent of all kids visited a dentist," he said. "And a survey of adults found one in five individuals say they have dental needs that go unmet."

At Thursday's forum, ideas were discussed to include oral care in pilot programs the state plans to set up this fall under the new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model.

Under the ACO model, health-care providers would be rewarded for keeping people healthy, not just treating them when they're ill. Rosman said this new approach could help bridge the divide.

"We think these ACOs are an enormous opportunity to test out what it would be like to integrate dental care and oral health," he added. "And so, we're pushing MassHealth to really consider, as a pilot, including oral health and dental care as part of these ACOs, which are going to be set up later this year on a pilot basis."

Thursday's forum at the Omni Parker House included a panel of researchers and stakeholders who discussed ways to better bridge the divide between oral and medical health in the Commonwealth.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA