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Family Physicians Endorse Oral Health Integration

Family Physicians Endorse Oral Health Integration

March 1, 2016

AAFP endorses oral health integration

At Health Care For All, we believe that oral health is integral to overall health. This belief is gaining more and more traction as mainstream organizations begin embracing it. Late last year, it gained even more support as the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) endorsed a medical-dental integration framework.

The model, known as the Oral Health Delivery Framework, outlines the importance of including preventive oral health care as a component of routine medical care and reviews the social and economic consequences of poor oral health. The report also details five actionable steps that primary care providers can take to protect and promote oral health, including:

  • Performing basic oral health risk assessments for patients;
  • Training and educating other primary care providers on how to identify oral health conditions and the importance of oral health;
  • Offering preventive interventions like fluoride varnish or dietary counseling;
  • Having structured referral networks between dentistry and primary care;
  • Leveraging health information technology to facilitate oral health risk assessments.

Primary care providers, including family physicians, are positioned to play a strong role in promoting good oral health. As the oral health delivery framework explains, providers can make it a priority by screening for oral health behaviors and risk factors. We’ve seen similar initiatives with mental health, and now nearly every primary care visit includes a short survey and screening for depression. Oral health should be treated with equal importance.

Yet it is not enough to simply screen for poor oral health – providers must have an established mechanism for connecting patients with the appropriate care, too. Whether this comes in the form of co-located practices, structured referral networks, or another method, providers must be able to effectively help patients establish a dental home. Primary care providers can also play a strong role in patient education. In Boston Children’s Hospital’s primary care clinic, for example, every visit includes oral health education from a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant during the intake procedure.  

This endorsement comes at a pivotal time for Massachusetts. As the state transitions to new payment and delivery models known as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), providers will be held accountable for improving patient health through coordinated care delivery. This moment represents a critical opportunity to elevate oral health as a priority for residents of the Commonwealth and to advocate for the integration and inclusion of dental care into new models. As more and more organizations like the AAFP recognize the importance of oral health and support for medical-dental integration grows, it proves: it’s time to put the mouth back in the body.

                                  -- Kate Frisher