A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Good Oral Health a Key Component of Good Overall Health

Good Oral Health a Key Component of Good Overall Health

April 2, 2019

Everyone should have the opportunity to have good health; oral health is an important component of this. In honor of National Public Health Week, we are highlighting the importance of oral health in maintaining the overall health of all people.

For far too long, oral health has been kept separate from overall health. The truth of the matter is that an infection of the mouth can affect the rest of the body. Dental infections and disease can lead to significant long-term effects on a person’s general health such as pain, systemic infections, hospitalizations, worsening of other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and pre-term births. Poor oral health can also be associated with a lower quality of life in the form of poor self-esteem and mental health, poor nutrition and sleep disruption. Oral disease is directly responsible for an estimated 164 million work hours lost in the U.S. each year. Preventing tooth loss, decay, and gum disease can reduce the risk of these challenges and complications.

Health Care For All (HCFA) is working toward improving oral health and reducing barriers to care in the Commonwealth through various policy initiatives led by its long-standing oral health coalition, the Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce (OHAT). A key policy priority is to integrate dental care into the current health care delivery system and through new models of care delivery such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs) that are specifically designed to focus on patient-centered, whole-person health. One of the first steps in this integration work is advocating for medical providers to ask patients if they have a dentist and to apply fluoride varnish to the teeth of patients who are at high risk of developing cavities.

Additionally, we also understand that many in Massachusetts struggle to access dental care because of difficulties finding dentists who accept public insurance, the prohibitive costs of dental care, and the challenge of travelling to a dentist’s office. Historically, we also know that when residents don’t have access to appropriate and timely dental services, they are likely to forgo care until significant pain forces them to seek medical treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Sadly, medical providers can often prescribe only pain medications, including opioids, and antibiotics, leaving the underlying dental disease untreated. This is particularly concerning at time when we continue to grapple with the opioid crisis locally and nationally.

To address these challenges, HCFA and OHAT are championing two key oral health bills in MA this year. We thank our legislative champions, Senator Emeritus Chandler, Senator Hogan and Representatives Honan and Pignatelli for their support and leadership. One bill is for the restoration of full dental coverage for adults on MassHealth (S.1212/H.1917), and the other is the authorization of an additional type of dental professional, called a Dental Therapist (S.1215/H.1916) who would work with a dentist, similar to the way a nurse practitioner works with a physician. We encourage you to advocate for these bills by calling your state legislators to let them know why improving access to oral health is important to you. Oral health matters to HCFA because we believe that people cannot be healthy unless they have the access to the dental services they need. Oral health is public health and a health justice issue we are committed to overcoming by increasing the dental access of marginalized populations such as older adults, immigrants, and communities of color. 

For additional information please contact Chrystel Murrieta at cmurrieta@hcfama.org or 617-275-2928

- Dr. Neetu Singh & Chrystel Murrieta, Oral Health Team, Health Care For All


This blog is part of HCFA’s 2019 National Public Health Awareness Week series.