Mouth-Body Connection: Iowa PCA Oral Health Leadership Day Brings Dental and Medical Staff Together

March 19, 2020

A few weeks ago, representatives from numerous community health centers in Iowa gathered in Des Moines to attend our Oral Health Leadership Day. Dental providers, medical providers, CEOs, and Iowa PCA staff met to discuss integration of oral health and primary care. With thirteen health centers and one migrant health program in Iowa, there are fourteen different ways our health centers deliver oral care to their patients. The recent discussion was one of the first attempts to bring those different methods together.

To begin, oral health matters. There is a significant gap in the rates of oral health disease between disadvantaged and affluent groups, and the risk factors for oral health and general health have significant overlap. Where there are risk factors for physical health, one’s oral health will also be endangered. The social determinants of health will increase the risk of both heart disease and periodontal disease, not one or the other. To read more about the importance of oral health care and how our health centers are working to improve access to it, click here.

The Oral Health Leadership Day occurred in this context. According to our Oral Health Manager, Nancy Adrianse, the meeting was intended to get medical staff and dental staff in the same meeting. Although health centers provide integrated services, often in the same building, it is not guaranteed that a patient’s doctors and dentists will communicate about the patient’s condition. After all, they are often seeing many patients and do not have much opportunity to consider upstream causes for poor health, physical or dental.

We hoped our health centers would share, with us and with each other, how they measured oral health “success”. In health care, “success” is a loaded term. Is treating someone’s cavity a success, or is it a failure because the patient got a cavity in the first place? As we move from volume to value—from performing more services to performing services that prevent illness in the first place—oral health is a prime target. Our health centers, and all of their staff, have a role to play.