With COVID-19 dominating legislative priorities over the last two years, it has been a challenge to maintain a focus on the oral health of mothers and children, a panel of experts told attendees at the NCSL Legislative Summit.
Losing ground in preventing or managing chronic conditions means a potentially costly outcome for payers and health systems, they said. For example, mothers and children missed preventive oral health appointments, which can lead to higher level services at a later stage of disease with poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs.
Each panelist represented a different perspective of pediatric, dental and health services research: Jane Grover, director of the American Dental Association’s Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention; Patricia Braun, director of the Rocky Mountain Network of Oral Health Integration; and Amy Martin, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Dental Medicine.
Braun noted that, as a pediatrician, chronic dental disease is by far the most common condition she sees. While highly prevalent, chronic oral health conditions are preventable. Prenatal checkups and well-child visits present key opportunities to deliver preventive oral health services, the panelists said.
The panelists noted that the integration of oral health services—such as physically co-locating oral health and primary care services—can improve the health of maternal and child populations. They highlighted actions that address the integration of maternal and child oral health services through policies like teledentistry and leveraging mid-level providers like dental therapists.
And they discussed whether state dental practice acts provide the necessary flexibility to address access and other policy challenges. While these policies are not necessarily directly related to integration, they can act as technological, workforce and statutory tools to address oral health service integration.
Arkansas Representative Deborah Ferguson (D), a dentist, shared recent efforts in her state that involved dental hygienists and the promotion of oral health screenings in well-child visits. North Dakota Senator Judy Lee (R) provided an overview of dental therapy and other efforts to improve access and reduce costs in her state.
Some legislatures have enacted measures relating to hygienists and therapists and other oral health providers to address workforce shortages that can hamper patients’ access to services. Currently, 42 states permit direct access for dental hygienists, which means they can initiate treatment without authorization from a dentist. There are 13 states with dental therapy programs.
NCSL will continue to support state legislative efforts on oral health and foster connections between members and national oral health leaders.
For related information and inquiries about state policy on oral health, contact Erik Skinner in NCSL’s Health Program.
NCSL would like to acknowledge the Health Resources and Services Administration and the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health for supporting the Summit preconference.