Good health requires good oral health, yet millions of Americans lack access to basic oral health care. Various factors create barriers, preventing access to care for vulnerable and underserved populations, such as children and Medicaid beneficiaries. The Health Resources and Services Administration and the California HealthCare Foundation asked the IOM and the National Research Council to assess the current oral health care system, to develop a vision for how to improve oral health care for these populations, and to recommend ways to achieve this vision.
Access to oral health care across the life cycle is critical to overall health, and it will take flexibility and ingenuity among multiple stakeholders—including government leaders, oral health professionals, and others—to make this access available. To improve provider participation in public programs, states should increase Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program reimbursement rates. With proper training, nondental health care professionals can acquire the skills to perform oral disease screenings and provide other preventive services. Dental schools should expand opportunities for dental students to care for patients with complex oral health care needs in community-based settings in order to improve the students’ comfort levels in caring for vulnerable and underserved populations. Finally, states should examine and amend state practice laws to allow healthcare professionals to practice to their highest level of competence. The IOM’s recommendations provide a roadmap for the important and necessary next steps to improve access to oral health care, reduce oral health disparities, and improve the oral health of the nation’s vulnerable and underserved populations.