Proposed Solutions to Bridge the Gap in Oral Healthcare Accessibility

Since my last post, I have spent considerable time investigating the proposed solutions to bridge this oral healthcare gap. While the facts and figures warrant a change in health policy, what would a feasible, effective change look like? Some experts in the field suggest community-based sealant and fluoride programs. Dental sealants are clear plastic coating applied to molars (the teeth most likely to get cavities), can be applied by hygienists or dentists, and require little equipment. Fluoride can be added to a community water supply or administered as a mouth rinse to strengthen the enamel (outer, protective coating) of teeth. Both options save far more money in dental treatment costs, which can include Medicaid dollars and therefore save the States considerable funding.

Some of my sources also pushed for more interdisciplinary collaboration between medical and dental professionals. Most patients see medical providers earlier and more frequently than dentists, so adding some basic dental screening and education in medical offices may improve dental outcomes and encourage more patients to seek primary dental care.

Alongside with expanding the reach of dental services in other disciplines, many support an increase in the dental workforce itself. During my research I found examples of scholarship programs which pay off the rising student loans of new dentists in exchange for a commitment to work in an underserved area for at least two years. Organizations such as these are doing important work in motivating dental professionals to take their skills to places of true need.

A last and perhaps most significant recommendation for increasing dental care access is to maintain reasonable Medicaid policies. It has been shown that state policies affect the frequency of an individual’s visits to the dentist: less Medicaid patients see a dental provider when benefits are cut from state budgets and more Medicaid patients see a dental provider when their benefits are expanded. To ensure consistent financial access for individuals ensured through public insurance programs, states need to establish steady reimbursement rates that are high enough to cover the cost of dental care, encouraging broader Medicaid participation by dentists.

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