Panelists at #AHCJ18 to discuss integrating medical, dental care

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Oral health has been recognized as an integral part of overall health yet our fragmented health care system does not reflect this reality.

An interdisciplinary panel of experts will tackle the dilemma of the dental-medical divide at Health Journalism 2018 on Friday, April 13.

The panel, “Closing the gap between oral and overall health: What will it take?” is slated for the Association of Health Care Journalists annual conference, being held this year April 12-15 in Phoenix.

Panelists will include Anita Glicken, M.S.W., executive director of the National Interprofessional Initiative on Oral Health; Russell Maier, M.D., a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, as well as Robert Trombly, D.D.S., J.D., and Jack Dillenberg, D.D.S., M.P.H., who serve respectively as dean and dean emeritus at A.T. Still University-Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health.

They will share stories of their own work aimed at health care integration. They will also explore the challenges to such efforts, which can be formidable.

Some of the barriers come in the form of professional divisions. For generations, dentists and physicians have been educated separately and have worked in different worlds. Working collaboratively offers dental and medical researchers the promise of a deeper understanding of the interrelationships between oral and systemic conditions, but such work requires a culture shift.

Clinical cooperation presents its own set of challenges in a system where dental and medical services have typically been financed separately and provided separately and where patients often get lost attempting to navigate the dental-medical divide.

One costly and painful reminder of this disconnect is the fact that hundreds of thousands of times a year, patients arrive in hospital emergency rooms seeking care for non-traumatic dental problems such as toothaches. These hospital visits cost hundreds of millions of dollars and the patients’ underlying dental needs are seldom met.

In his landmark 2000 report “Oral Health in America,” then-Surgeon General David Satcher called for an American health care system that “meets the oral health needs of all Americans and integrates oral health effectively into overall health.”

Models that offer interprofessional education, that place dental hygienists in safety net clinics and that train physicians and nurses to provide oral health checks and preventive care to infants are showing promise in some places. Panelists will discuss these and other efforts that might move the system closer to that goal and the work that lies ahead. The conversation promises to be a rich one.

Follow along on Twitter using #AHCJoralhealth.

Note: Pre-registration for the conference closes at noon CT on March 12.

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