6 Things We Learned About Oral Health in the Last Year

Oral Health

6 Things We Learned About Oral Health in the Last Year

One year ago marked the launch of CareQuest Institute for Oral Health amidst a national reckoning on the deep inequities that exist across this country.

CareQuest Institute was created with a commitment to creating a health system that is more accessible, equitable, and integrated. Unfortunately, our health care system is not built to work for everyone: people of color, those living in rural communities, people with disabilities, older adults, and other historically marginalized groups have been left behind. The result is that millions of Americans suffer from unnecessary oral diseases every year. Our oral health system is ready for — and urgently needs — change.

Every day, that’s what CareQuest Institute works toward — creating positive change by elevating ideas and solutions to create a more accessible, equitable, and integrated health system for everyone. One year in, CareQuest Institute is accelerating oral health care transformation and moving faster, together, toward a health system designed for everyone.

In the last 12 months, CareQuest Institute has learned dozens of lessons about the oral health industry, but these six stand above the rest:

1. Equity and access gaps are still widening. CareQuest Institute launched the first-of-its-kind annual consumer oral health survey in 2021 focused on better understanding oral health inequity in the US. The findings were stark but not unexpected: People of color and lower-income populations consistently experience obstacles to preventive oral health care.

CareQuest Institute’s research team is analyzing the results from this year’s survey and will be sharing several new publications in the next few months. Early results show that despite some progress, barriers remain.

2. Communities of like-minded learners are transforming oral health. Building on past successes, the COrHT (Community Oral Health Transformation) and MORE Care™ (Medical Oral Expanded Care) Initiatives are positioned to enable more states, medical and dental providers, and community partners to work toward redesigning our oral health system. Better coordination, more integration, and the continued transition to value-based care will be the focus as work accelerates.

3. Strengthening adult dental benefits will be a journey. For the first time, Medicare dental coverage was a topic of national discussion last year. While the fight to include dental coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries continues, the support for ensuring that seniors and people with disabilities have access to the oral health care they need has never been stronger. There was also more research that strengthening dental benefits for adults on Medicaid, which supports low-income families, helps states, adding energy and evidence to continue advocacy efforts in 2022.

4. Our veterans deserve better. In 2021, CareQuest Institute and the American Institute of Dental Public Health (AIDPH) partnered to begin exploring ways to improve veteran care. A joint white paper, created in collaboration with veterans’ organizations and stakeholders across oral health, shined a light on the gaps in oral health access and care for veterans. The ongoing partnership will continue its focus on studying the current state of veteran oral health and access to care and then developing data-driven recommendations informed by the veteran community.

5. There’s a thirst for knowledge about minimally invasive care. CareQuest Institute’s most popular webinar from 2021 — Providing Minimally Invasive Care with Silver Diamine Fluoride — came in August, grabbing the attention of nearly 1,000 industry leaders. Minimally invasive dentistry — preventive and non-invasive treatments to equitably reduce suffering from caries and periodontal disease — has the potential to improve the care experience for patients and providers.

6. Holistic, person-centered care is the future. Our oral health system developed over time in patchwork form, producing a system that isn’t well-designed to achieve the best outcomes for patients. The existing fee-for-service model leads to misaligned financial incentives. And dental providers are siloed from the rest of health care, despite clear evidence of the connection between oral health and overall health and the benefits of integration.

CareQuest Institute will continue to build upon the Three Domain Framework as we envision a new system of the future.

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