Oral health is an essential component of overall health, but that outlook isn’t widely put into practice, according to Ryan Quock, DDS, chair of the board of directors at the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), who said this paradox diminishes the influence of oral health professionals in the healthcare community.
Writing in the March edition of the ADEA’s Journal of Dental Education, Quock highlighted a disconnect between a philosophical embrace of oral health as essential and health delivery models that do not honor that recognition.
Quock, a Distinguished Teaching Professor with the Department of Restorative Dentistry & Prosthodontics at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston, pointed to the list of 10 essential health benefits as defined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
While pediatric oral care is listed as an essential benefit in the ACA Marketplace, Quock noted, oral care for adults is not. Additionally, Quock said, most medical insurance plans do not include dental coverage, which is instead purchased separately as a limited benefit.
“It is my opinion that reconciling the oral health paradox, making oral health essential in both philosophy and practice, is the fundamental existential challenge on which our professional future depends,” Quock said.
Quock called on dental educators to speak about this disconnect and advocate for change.
“Why should the dental education community care? The implications of oral health not truly being considered essential are current and obvious,” he said.
“At a high level, it diminishes our voice at the table in all arenas (healthcare, higher education, policy). Closer to home, there is the ongoing demand on dental education units to justify their existence and budget to their parent institutions,” Quock said.
“And especially in the era of COVID, it affects access to vital relief funding and personal protective equipment,” he said. “In short, if oral health isn’t practically considered essential, then dental education’s footing is not so firm,” he said.
Advocating for oral healthcare as a crucial part of an integrated health system has long been a focus of ADEA, the organization said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the vital role that oral health professionals play in overall well-being, said ADEA president and CEO Karen West, DMD, MPH, as more than 18 states have authorized dentists to administer vaccines.
“This sustained global focus we’ve had on healthcare during the pandemic has given us an opportunity to reframe a broader conversation about healthcare, emphasizing how oral healthcare is part and parcel of overall well-being,” West said. “We have to keep making that point at every opportunity.”