In December 2021, the federal government’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research released Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, a comprehensive report on oral health in America. This is more than two decades after Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, a groundbreaking public health report emphasizing the links between oral health and overall health and wellness, pointing out inequities in accessing affordable oral health care, and providing a framework through which such disparities could be addressed. The new report’s release was timely, given concerns about the role of the oral cavity in the transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.
We’re still mining the information contained in the 790-page report, because the importance of oral health and its links to overall health and wellness is at the heart of the dental insurance industry. It’s the result of two years of research and the work of 400 contributors. It’s overarching conclusions are that while we have made progress over the last 20 years, there are still too many Americans suffering from diseases of the mouth, the majority of which relate to oral health disparities. There is a lot more work to be done.
The dental insurance industry has a role to play in that work. The report documented that during a three-year period 56% of people with private dental insurance had dental visits in the past 12 months and only 26% of uninsured people had dental visits during the same period. Moreover, dental benefits increase preventive care use by 19% and restorative services by about 16%.
The report’s executive summary identifies three multi-faceted calls to action, and we are proud to say Northeast Delta Dental is already addressing one or more facet of each. It calls for the reduction of systemic inequities that affect access to care. Our Social Justice Committee is developing connections with people in the Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities in our three states, and we are trying to build sustainable initiatives to address some of the drivers behind racially oriented oral health inequities. It calls for oral, medical, and behavioral health care to be more integrated and to be given in community settings. We champion integrated oral and medical care, and we support many programs providing dental care in dental clinics, community health centers, schools, and other nontraditional settings to increase access to dental services. It calls for the costs of educating and training the next generation of dentists to be addressed. We contribute to scholarship and dental loan repayment programs that reduce the costs of dental education while encouraging dentists to practice in underserved regions, and we help with the costs of some programs providing dental and dental auxiliary training.
If you’re interested in learning more, a 28-page executive summary, the full report, and related fact sheets are available as PDFs at Oral Health in America | National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (nih.gov).