Panel Maps Out Oral Health Plan for Primary Care

Patients usually don't expect their mouths to get much attention when they visit a primary care physician, but there is reason to change that. 

Because dental care is the most common unmet health need in most communities, panelists at arecent webinar( hosted by the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative discussed how and why primary care physicians should consider incorporating oral health into their practices.

The most vulnerable populations do not have adequate insurance coverage for dental care, which leads to problems across populations. For instance, dental caries is the most common chronic disease among children, 20 percent of adults have destructive periodontal disease, 25 percent of seniors have lost all of their natural teeth by age 65, and dental disease may be linked to diabetes and poor pregnancy outcomes.

Because primary care physicians are the only medical specialists many patients see, they are well-positioned to play an important role in oral health, panelists said. They can screen for signs of early oral disease, administer treatments such as applying fluoride varnish and refer patients who need further attention to dentists.

Primary care physicians are a critical part of reducing the "prevention gap" that makes national rates of dental disease unacceptably high, panelists said.

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