While oral health has long been the forgotten aspect of primary care it is starting to gain some momentum and notoriety. The Alaska Primary Care Association (APCA) has taken this opportunity to help improve the oral health of all Alaskans through providing technical assistance, creating a forum, and providing materials to Community Health Center (CHC) dentists and other CHC staff. Integrating oral health into the primary care setting is key for patients to receive optimal overall health.
The Health Resources and Services Agency (HRSA) recognizes that lack of access to oral health care contributes to the health disparities that we currently see in the United States. In 2008, 4.6 million children did not receive the oral health care that they needed because their families could not afford it. HRSA states that one of the ways to combat the lack of access to oral health care is to integrate it into the primary care setting. By doing this in safety net organizations that provide health care to the uninsured, low-income, and vulnerable persons we can start bridging the gap that leads to health disparities. The APCA is working on this issue in two major ways: by partnering with the DentaQuest Foundation and promoting the Smiles for Life curriculum.
Partnership with DentaQuest
The APCA has partnered with the DentaQuest Foundation through the Strengthening the Oral Health Safety Net initiative (SOHSN). Through this initiative up to five CHCs will receive high level technical assistance through Safety Net Solutions and the APCA. This technical assistance will help the sustainability and quality of the dental program, while also promoting oral health integration in the CHC by identifying and working toward best practices. This will take place every year for three years, potentially giving up to fifteen CHCs the opportunity to participate in this initiative. Here is a link to look at some of the case studies, SNS Case Studies.
The APCA takes what it learns from the CHC site visits and SNS webinars and spreads these best practices to all of our members across the state. It is these best practices that will help ensure the sustainability of our current dental programs and could lead to the development of others.
Smiles for Life
Promoting the Smiles for Life program is another way the APCA encourages oral health integration into the primary care setting. This curriculum is a free internet training that teaches providers how to perform oral exams and apply fluoride varnish and provides Continuing Education Units. This training emphasizes to the provider the importance of oral health and brings it to the forefront of their thoughts. Once a provider has completed the trainings they will then be certified and able to be reimbursed through Medicaid for performing oral exams and fluoride varnish applications.