Report Recommends Strategies for Integrating Oral and Primary Healthcare

Dentistry Today


In practice, policy, and education, oral healthcare and primary healthcare traditionally have been considered separately. To change that, a group of public health dentists has issued recommendations on improving the integration of these fields with a goal of influencing policymakers, clinicians, educators, and health researchers.

Based at the UCLA School of Dentistry and the University of North Carolina, these researchers have found that additional work is needed to integrate primary care and oral health to provide more comprehensive and improved access to care. Also, the amount of time devoted to oral health in health-professional training programs remains low, and topics are limited. 

“One of the biggest takeaways from our analysis was that the integration of primary care and oral healthcare is still in its early stages, with little guidance and support from professional associations, governing bodies, and policymakers,” said Kathryn Atchison, DDS, MPH, professor of public health at the UCLA School of Dentistry and the Fielding School of Public Health.

“We see this report as a blueprint for policymakers to better understand what is needed to best serve the public in the rapidly changing healthcare delivery system,” Atchison said.

The report outlines 21 recommendations, including:

  • Applying a comprehensive framework that includes integration theory, oral health, and primary care, with attention to health literacy, into practice, education, research, and policymaking 
  • Prioritizing oral health promotion and disease prevention in integration activities to reduce health disparities
  • Exploring the best ways to establish formal collaboration and referral networks among healthcare systems, medical practices, and dental practices in local regions
  • Developing and refining quality of care metrics that include the degree of integration between primary care and oral health

Two examples of these recommendations already in practice are the UCLA-First 5 LA Children’s Dental Care Program, established in 2012, and UCLA Dentistry’s Infant Oral Care Program, initiated in 2009. Both initiatives are designed to offer educational programs to care providers to provide preventive oral health services to children and improve oral healthcare.

“Integration must be at the forefront of policymakers’ and educators’ minds in order to best prepare healthcare professionals to treat the general population,” said Paul Krebsbach, DDS, PhD, dean of the UCLA School of Dentistry.

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