Led by a dedicated Altarum team, the transformation of oral health is currently underway in Michigan, thanks to the Michigan Caries Prevention Program (MCPP). Dental disease is the most common chronic disease among children—and it is also entirely preventable. Many states already have the tools and resources to address this issue—by making sure more children receive preventive care, and that medical and dental providers are equipped to deliver it.
However, nationally, nearly 17 million children go without dental care each year. In primary care clinics trained by the MCPP in Michigan, the Altarum team found that only 5-10% of children used to get the care they needed. But that’s changed. During the past three years, the MCPP has significantly increased the number of children receiving appropriate oral health care. As a result of MCPP’s primary care provider training, more than 1,400 clinicians are providing oral health screenings, fluoride applications, and referrals to dental homes during well-child visits—and 70–90% of children are receiving care that is instrumental in preventing dental disease.
In addition to trainings, the Altarum team developed a first-of-its-kind dental monitoring system, the Michigan Dental RegistrySM (MiDRSM), which uses innovative technology to document care and care coordination between medical and dental providers—and boasts over 1,500 users to date. The team also pioneered a novel social networking solution, SmileConnect℠, which has delivered oral health services and resources to more than 8,500 children across the U.S.—children who would otherwise not have access to care.
Recently, Altarum demonstrated the combined potential of MiDRSM and SmileConnectSM at a community wellness event. Wellness events can be the first and only time children see a health professional, which presents a challenge to providers who are tasked with delivering effective care under significant time constraints. Health professionals use the time they have with the patient to teach them about positive health behaviors and provide preventive services, while encouraging them to receive medical and dental care from their community providers. Yet, while health fairs increase access to preventive health services and screenings, little health impact can be achieved without follow-up care. This is a challenge for volunteer care providers who don’t always have the resources and information to connect individuals to follow-up care.
MiDR℠ + SmileConnect℠ Pilot a New Model
To address this gap, Altarum leveraged SmileConnect℠ and MiDR℠ to provide volunteer care and connect health fair attendees with the resources they needed to ensure follow-up dental care. SmileConnect.org® already supports wellness events by providing an online platform for event organizers to request oral health supplies, educational materials, and to track preventive services and oral health screenings conducted by volunteer dental professionals. Its unique approach of delivering oral health resources directly to the community resonates with wellness event organizers, especially those who understand their community’s access to care challenges. MiDR℠ transforms the way medical and dental providers communicate about their patients’ oral health. It increases communication and transparency among the patient’s care team by capturing data on care provided and enabling real-time referrals to dental providers—which leads to better coordination in patient treatment and care in both the dentist’s and doctor’s offices.
On February 12, 2017, SmileConnect℠ connected oral health supplies, seven dental students, and three dental providers to deliver fluoride varnish, conduct oral health screenings, and counsel attendees of a wellness event in Dearborn, Michigan, encouraging healthy oral health habits. Three new dental providers signed up for MiDR℠ and were able to not only provide care to approximately 30 children attending, but also give patients direct referrals to a dental home near them for follow-up care.
Moving Beyond Michigan
The SmileConnect℠ and MiDR℠ collaboration went beyond providing preventive services and oral health resources—it established continuity of care with referrals and dental homes, which is a crucial piece in eradicating childhood dental disease. However, in order to truly effect change on a large scale, other states—many of which are failing to provide children with adequate oral health—must replicate Michigan’s efforts. And, given the tremendous effect they have had, the best practices developed through SmileConnect℠ and MiDR℠ are attracting interest from states that want to improve children’s oral health.
CMS Disclaimer: The project described was supported by Grant Number 1C1CMS331321 from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any of its agencies.
Pew Charitable Trusts. In search of dental care: Two types of dentist shortages limit children’s access to care (June 2013). Retrieved from: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2013/insearchofdentalcarepdf.pdf
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