This year, a new model for integrating oral health care into general primary care was released. The model, called the Oral Health Delivery Framework, has been endorsed by many healthcare organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), but it remains to be tested.

doctors torso with arms folded

Recognizing the Links between Oral and General Health

One of the most positive aspects of this integrated model is that it emphasizes to doctors the importance of oral health in establishing and maintaining the overall health of their patients. The Oral Health Delivery Framework stresses that childhood caries is the most important chronic disease of childhood, while gum disease is critically linked with many diseases among adults, including heart disease.

The paper also notes that oral health problems are essentially vertically transmitted diseases that are highly preventable. Educating primary care physicians about what they should look for and what they can do to help protect their patients’ health can be very helpful. The program emphasizes preventive dental care that might be delivered during children’s wellness visits, as well as the use of structured referrals to dental care providers to ensure patients receive appropriate care. The goal is to leverage existing relationships to improve patients’ access to knowledge about oral disease and proper preventive care.

Potential Weaknesses of the Proposal

So far, the proposal remains untested. Currently, there are 19 family care practices in 5 states testing the Oral Health Delivery Framework, which should highlight the practical weaknesses and strengths of the system.

However, there are drawbacks to the proposed framework. First, although children may see their doctor more often than their dentist, most adults see their dentists more often than their doctor. This means that if we want to improve the health and knowledge of adults, more primary care functions should be shifted to the dentist and not vice-versa.

Second, some patients may take the addition of some preventive dental care to their normal doctor’s visit as justification for not visiting a dentist. It is unlikely that doctor’s visits will be able to completely take the place of dentist visits, so this model might result in a net decrease in overall oral health.

There is also the question of how much specialized dental care should be turned over to primary care generalists. Certainly, there are some aspects that doctors may be qualified to handle, but many others that simply should be kept in the hands of dentists.

Finally, dental care is an area where costs have remained low, despite growth in other areas of healthcare expenditures. Integrating more dental care into primary care might lead to an increased cost.

Overall, there is nothing wrong with integrating dental care with other types of primary care, but it has to be done properly, maintaining the close relationship that many people have with their dentists and ensuring that people still receive the same level of quality care. If you are looking for the quality dental care in Orange County, please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment with a dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.