VA Tests Innovative Models to Improve Delivery of Dental Services

A few months ago I made a case for finding a national solution to the limitations on veterans’ dental benefits. Rules for who receives treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Dental Program are overly restrictive.    Only an Act of Congress can broaden those rules to include more veterans with dental issues associated with, and aggravated by, service-connected medical conditions. Our veterans need better access to dental benefits for a variety of reasons, one of the most compelling of which is that untreated dental disease undermines overall health and wellness.

Recently the VA announced that it had submitted to Congress a waiver request and pilot program to increase access to dental care. Called the MISSION Act, the purpose of Section 152 of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 is to authorize testing innovative service delivery models to improve the quality of dental care for our veterans.

The VA itself has limited authority to provide dental services for veterans under the existing statute; but, with this waiver request, the VA increases access to those services through connections to community-based, pro bono, or discounted dental services providers. The VA will test both payment and service delivery models. Upon approval of the pilot, the VA will work with such groups as the American Dental Association and Federally Qualified Health Centers nationwide, serving veterans who have previously been ineligible for dental services. The VA accepted comments on this new program through January 13.

The announcement from the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said that “The dental care proposal, titled the Care Coordination for Dental Benefits demonstration project under the Community Provider Collaborations for Veterans Pilot Program, is the first waiver request and pilot program submitted to Congress under this authority”. The VA will publish details of the pilot program for public comment in The Federal Register, the Daily Journal of the United States Government.

I commend all supporters of this pilot program to increase access to dental benefits to more veterans and all of the service providers who will play an invaluable role in its success.

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It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For

After reading It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose, I invited Roy M. Spence, Jr., who wrote the book with Haley Rushing, to present his vision of a purpose-inspired business to me and my colleagues. Roy is the cofounder, chairman, and CEO of a national advertising agency, GSD&M, and cofounder (with Haley) & CEO of The Purpose Institute, founded to help organizations discover their purposes.

His book encourages organizations to identify their purposes (beyond making money) and become purpose inspired. He says this is particularly attractive to workers of two generations, baby boomers and millennials.  He gives examples of organizations stewarding their purposes—among them, Southwest Airlines, Wal-Mart, AARP, and American Red Cross. In his presentation, he said that when a business is inspired by its purpose, it makes decision-making  and organization alignment easier, and employees are more innovative.  “Purpose-driven organizations tend to have values-based cultures built on love and commitment to shared purpose. They often become legendary as great places to work,” he said. That’s what we want to be!

The book is a good read, and I recommend it particularly for those in leadership positions in businesses and nonprofits.  When you’ve read it, tell me about what you learned.

Roy_Spence_Book_Cover

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Dangers of Vaping to Young Users

The use of tobacco products is hazardous to our oral and overall health, whether it takes the form of cigarettes, cigars, or smokeless tobacco. As a nation, we’ve discouraged smoking in a variety of ways, to the point where smoking cigarettes seems less “cool” than when many of us were teens. Even so, according to the American Lung Society, each year more than 480,000 people in the U.S. die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, making it the leading cause of preventable death (www.lung.org).

The demonstrably false notion that e-cigarette usage, or vaping, is a safer, less addictive, and, possibly more “cool” form of smoking than traditional cigarettes has lured our youth into bad habits, while undermining their health by damaging developing brains, lungs, and hearts.  Chemicals found in e-cigarettes impair teeth and gums, creating, or exacerbating, oral health issues.

These products are packaged in fruit flavors with appealing names, masking the taste of nicotine and other harmful ingredients. Whether marketed to teenagers or not, the increased appeal is too obvious to dispute. This creates a public health perfect storm.

The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire have taken different approaches in dealing with the dangers of widespread e-cigarette use among adolescents, as the short- and long-term implications of this health crisis cause national and state leaders to grapple for effective policies that will begin addressing the problem now.

On a more personal level, we can all communicate often, and consistently, that, along with all other tobacco products containing nicotine, e-cigarettes are addictive and dangerous. As we discourage our children and grandchildren from using them, we can: point out the oral and overall health dangers, tell them this is an expensive habit (both in money and lost health), and make sure they know that the best way to avoid an addiction is to never start. And let’s help them recognize that it’s okay to say “no” when offered an e-cigarette or vaping pen, and tell them we’ll be very proud of them when they do.

On this topic:

http://grinmag.com/documents/Fall-2019.pdf

https://smilecoachmonthly.com

https://www.concordmonitor.com/Capital-Beat-Amid-first-reported-vape-injury-New-Hampshire-rolling-out-new-e-cigarette-regulations-29281999

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Doing Right by our Heroes: Expanding Dental Benefits for Veterans

As many as 9 out of 10 veterans seeking dental care at Veteran’s Administration medical care facilities may be denied access to treatment because of the eligibility rules governing what classification of veterans receiving medical benefits are also able to  receive dental benefits. These rules are highly restrictive and can only be broadened by an Act of Congress (38 USC Sec 1712) to include more veterans. These rules need changing. Our veterans deserve better than being denied dental benefits.

We need a national solution. Many dental professionals in our region are helping veterans with limited resources on a case-by-case basis.  But these remedies are not comprehensive enough for this complex problem.

Increasing access to dental benefits for more veterans makes good economic sense. As a nation, we can save money on veterans’ health care by investing more dollars in dental benefits. A report by the Wakely Consulting Group, commissioned by Delta Dental Plans Association, found a correlation between dental benefit use and overall medical costs, reporting that there is “a consistent correlation between dental benefit use and lower overall medical costs for commercial insured beneficiaries afflicted with chronic conditions, combined with periodontal disease.”

Let’s tell our Congressional representatives we’re unhappy with the number of veterans that have no access to dental benefits.  We can encourage them to put partisan politics aside and work collaboratively to broaden the scope of the existing VA rules governing which veterans with medical benefits also receive dental benefits, so that fewer veterans needing dental procedures are turned away. The dollars invested in dental care will be balanced by savings on health care costs. If this less restrictive approach to dental benefits by the VA is adopted, Congress will have accomplished something nearly as heroic on behalf of our veterans as the veterans themselves have accomplished for all of us.

This is an abbreviated version of the op-ed piece published in the Vol. 41 No 20 issue of New Hampshire Business Review.  Find the complete article here.

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Closing the Gaps; Connecting Oral Health with Overall Health

The word catenate \ˈka-tə-ˌnāt\, means to connect things together, e.g. to form a chain. For more than twenty years, Northeast Delta Dental has been working diligently to change the old perception that the mouth and body are separate. Dental science has proven that good oral health leads to better overall health and catenate (connect) with the human body. Delta Dental has created a new organization that will take action to improve better health outcomes in several ways.

It is exciting to share with you that Northeast Delta Dental, as one of the Delta Dental Plans Association’s 39 member companies, is supporting a “first-of-its-kind national organization. This new organization is dedicated to putting a new spotlight on the importance of oral health,” as stated in a recent press release from the Delta Dental Institute, that unveiled its’ purpose to:

 “Pursue a substantive research agenda focused on answering important oral health-related inquiries including: How to reduce costs associated with preventable dental conditions; how to better integrate oral health into wellness programs in ways that improve overall health; how to most effectively integrate medical and dental care to achieve better health outcomes; and how to improve oral health literacy.”

Although there is a rich history of separation for medical health and dental health, Northeast Delta Dental is invested in reversing this outdated understanding. For instance, we took action to reverse this perception through our partnership with Tufts Health Freedom Plan, and by developing the Health through Oral Wellness® (HOW®) program that allows additional cleanings, fluoride, and sealant treatment for people with underlying medical conditions. After its first inception as a pilot program six years ago, I can proudly say that 98.7% of our group policies include the HOW® program today.

We continue to pursue innovative change to help close the medical and dental gaps, and support the Delta Dental Institute to catenate oral health and overall health.

Delta Dental Institute Mission Statement:

The Delta Dental Institute is dedicated to advancing oral health for all Americans in partnership with Delta Dental companies and dedicated partners across the country. With expertise rooted in Delta Dental’s rich history of oral health leadership, we engage in and support oral health research, community outreach, and advocacy, striving to ensure all Americans can have the healthy smile they deserve and live their healthiest lives.

 Find out more at https://www.deltadental.com/institute/

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It’s all about the smile!

Entering the summer months reminds me of the numerous outdoor activities and events that we typically enjoy with friends and family. Many of you plan vacations to your favorite summer destinations. As you do so, remember to think about maintaining a healthy smile.

Many summertime parties, fairs, or festivals include lots of sugary favorites. Giving attention to your teeth and gums helps to avoid restorative care such as fillings and root canals, and also helps to maintain your overall health. Keeping up with a good brushing and flossing regimen can lower the risk of tooth decay, reduce sugar exposure, and help avoid tooth decay or dental caries. You will be less likely to eat more sugary treats after brushing.

Drinking water helps flush out excess sugar on tooth surfaces that cause decay. Water has numerous benefits and making sure you stay hydrated (especially during road races and visits to the gym) adds to your overall health and wellness.

Be mindful about your oral health and involve your children. Starting their good oral health habits early will prevent potential caries and reduce risk of gum disease. Northeast Delta Dental teams up with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to encourage the development of good oral health habits. Children who brush and floss daily can earn two tickets to a Fisher Cats game; find more details here.

While planning your summer vacations and events, planning your oral health routine ensures that your family’s oral health future will be bright. Smiles are such simple joygestures.

Did you know that?

  • Smiling helps relieve stress
  • Smiling makes a great first impression
  • Smiling can help you live longer
  • Smiling reduces blood pressure

Smile more, and develop an oral health routine that you’re whole family can benefit from. Learn more about how to keep your smile in check by clicking on this link.

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  I often speak throughout New Hampshire with Former NH Supreme Court Justice, The Honorable John T. Broderick, Jr., on this topic as mental health is critically important to overall health.  What does this have to do with dental health?  Let’s think about it for a minute.  Your smile shows the world who you are.  Also, there is science behind this.  Those who suffer with anxiety are more prone to oral health conditions such as canker sores, grinding your teeth while you sleep (bruxism), or dry mouth.  https://www.deltadental.com/grinmag/us/en/ddpa/2017/wellness/oral-and-mental-health-connection.html

What’s more, if you are struggling with your mental health, this is often communicated through your smile.  Judge Broderick and I often share the “Five Signs of Mental Distress,” originally created by the Campaign to Change Direction.  These signs seem so simple when you think about them, but they are important to be aware of.  If you are not feeling like yourself, withdrawn from normal activities, more easily agitated, not taking care of yourself, and feeling hopeless, or, if you notice that one of your friends or a loved one is exhibiting these behaviors, there is help available.

A number of mental health organizations throughout our state are offering events through the end of this month to highlight the importance of mental health and increase awareness.  Learn more about how you can take control of your mental health and how you may be able to help others access help and services.

Lakes Region Mental Health Center https://www.lrmhc.org/lrmhc-recognizes-mental-health-awareness-month/

Riverbend Community Mental Health https://www.riverbendcmhc.org/celebrate-mental-health-may-and-every-day/

Campaign to Change Direction

https://www.changedirection.org/

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