Expanding Access to Oral Care

Jul 14, 2011, 6:54 PM, Posted by mtomlinson

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council released a report Wednesday that makes a compelling and urgent case for expanding access to basic oral health care for vulnerable and underserved populations. Commissioned by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the California HealthCare Foundation, the report assesses the oral health care system and offers recommendations for ways to improve oral health care for children, seniors, minorities and other underserved populations.

Among its recommendations is the integration of oral health care into overall health care, by training non-dental health care professionals to screen for oral disease and administer preventive care. The report also recommends an improved dental education system that includes residencies and clinical experience with vulnerable and underserved populations, and increased recruitment to bring more people from minority, low-income and rural populations into the oral care field.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is working to promote and increase diversity in the dental workforce. Its Summer Medical and Dental Education Program works with college freshmen and sophomores from underrepresented populations to increase the competitiveness of their applications for dental or medical school. The free, six-week summer academic enrichment program operates at 12 sites across the country. RWJF’s Pipeline, Profession & Practice: Community Based Dental Education Program (the Dental Pipeline program) operated until 2010, reaching dental schools all across the country with strategies that increased diversity in the profession and increased access to oral health care among underserved populations.

Read an interview with RWJF’s Denise Davis, Dr.P.H., about the RWJF Dental Pipeline program.

Other recommendations in the new IOM report include: creating laws and regulations to allow dental professionals “to practice to the full extent of their education and training in a variety of settings and facilitate technology-based collaboration and supervision;” reducing financial and administrative barriers, including by providing dental coverage for all Medicaid beneficiaries and increasing Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) reimbursement rates for providers; promoting oral health research; and expanding the capacity of both state- and federally-funded dental health clinics and programs.

Learn more about the new IOM report.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.