An ambitious program intended to improve oral health for children and adults in Michigan was announced Wednesday by the Michigan Oral Health Coalition and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Michigan's State Oral Health Plan, which is intended to run through 2020, is focusing on three goals: Improved access, increased education, and care coordination between medical and dental professionals, said Christine Farrell, MHHS' oral health program director.
Edward Cox, M.D., a pediatrician in Grand Rapids and Kent County Oral Health Coalition board co-chair, laid out the challenges facing the new statewide initiative.
Cox said 42% of pregnant women failed to have their teeth cleaned in the 12 months prior to pregnancy, 55% of families earning less than $20,000 annually had no preventive dental care in the last year and 45% of black adults received no preventive dental care in the last year.
"There are serious gaps in oral health," said Cox, adding: "Simply educating our children about the importance of brushing their teeth and flossing daily can make a real difference that lasts a lifetime."
Farrell said increasing access to oral health for the underserved, primarily children and pregnant women, is the state's first goal.
"Michigan is working to attract 120 dental professionals" to improve care access in the state, Farrell said.
The second goal of education is to create a series of county advocacy networks in collaboration with the state's 900 school districts, Farrell said, to stress the importance of good oral health.
The third goal is to increase collaboration and care coordination between health and dental providers.
"Coordination helps (address) diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular (problems)," Farrell said.
But Farrell said the state oral health plan is hamstrung by lack of funding. The program is working with a $4 million budget that includes some state general funds, but mostly federal grants and donations from various foundations, including the Delta Dental Foundation Michigan.
Over the past several years, the Healthy Kids Dental program has "been incredibly valuable" to expanding access to children up to age 12. "We hope to expand the program to 13 to 21" years old, Cox said.
Farrell said the statewide oral health initiative is Michigan's third state plan.
"This is the most aggressive and we hope moves the needle," she said. "The collaboration and integration piece is new. ... We hope the medical community gets on board to raise awareness."
Cox said the education component has potential to head off future health problems and reduce long-term costs.
"Once we start to promote good tooth brushing, (use) of nonsugar drinks and a healthy diet, we hope dental problems go down over the years ... and you can decrease the need for dental care," Cox said.
The issue of lack of oral health for populations in Michigan isn't new.
In 2009, the Michigan Dental Association released a report, Michigan Access to Oral Health Care Work Group, that highlighted the important connection between dental care and maintaining good health.
Untreated dental disease can lead to costly health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, the report said.
The Michigan Oral Health Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve oral health in Michigan. The coalition is comprised of over 120 primary care clinicians, oral health clinicians, dental benefit providers, advocacy and provider organizations, state and local government officials, and patients.
"Michigan kicks off oral health improvement program" originally appeared in Crain's Detroit Business.