Health Center News, Uncategorized

Oral Health for High-Risk Populations

Ellen Robinson is NACHC’s Director of Information and Outreach. This article originally appeared in NACHC’s Care Teams Digest, published bimonthly. Subscribe to receive future issues delivered directly to your inbox.

Without the capacity to serve all health center patients, dental care teams often prioritize care. They consider how they can have the greatest impact, which patients are at higher risk for oral health disease, and/or which has the greatest need for care. Pediatric and obstetric patients are two populations that are often prioritized. 

Bringing Dental Care to Pediatric Patients and Agricultural Workers

Dental cavities are one of the leading chronic disease of childhood. It is preventable, which is one reason Salud Family Health partners with almost 100 schools across Colorado to bring preventative treatments such as fluoride and sealants directly to children.

“Unfortunately, a lot of Americans do not access oral health services, so when we take care to them, we can reach a lot of patients who would otherwise not get this care,” says Dr. Kerns. His team provides care to thousands of school-aged children, and in rural areas, they have also implemented an asynchronous teledentistry model to offer a higher level of service in those schools.

Petaluma Health Center (PHC), took a slightly different approach to improve access and health equity with children and agricultural workers living in California’s rural coastal farming communities. The health center has an integrated medical dental van that provides preventive oral health services to thousands of children at schools and agricultural workers at their job sites.

Engaging Pregnant Patients

Research has found that poor oral health during pregnancy can contribute to pre-term births and babies born with low-birth weight. Engaging busy pregnant women in oral health care can be challenging and requires health centers to try different approaches.

At PHC, obstetrics teams partner directly with the dental team to engage pregnant patients in oral care. During a patient’s initial obstetrics visit, the patient is scheduled for a dental appointment and given educational materials. PHC monitors how many of these patients show up for their dental appointments and reaches out to patients to make sure they are rescheduled if they miss an appointment. Currently, PHC is exploring ways to make it easier for pregnant women such as scheduling dental appointments on the same day as initial obstetrics appointments.

Dental Teams – Experts in Behavior Change

Oral health care often requires behavior change and commitment. Thus, dental teams find themselves developing skills in behavior change communication to work with patients across all life stages.

Dental teams at both Salud Family Heath and PHC are trained in motivational interviewing to engage patients in their care, empower them to administer self-care, and inspire them to commit to improved oral health care practices and disease prevention.

Related: Oral Health Is Overall Health (February 2023)