Addressing Vermont’s oral health deficiencies

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By Stephen Pitmon

Vermont has a great deal to be proud of when it comes to dental health care. We are one of America’s healthiest states. Eighty-eight percent of our children received dental care last year — the highest such rate in the nation. And, only 4.3 percent of Vermonters live in an underserved dental coverage area — the lowest in the nation.

But, we know many Vermonters still face barriers to dental care. More than half of adults have some stage of gum disease. Many seek relief in emergency rooms rather than the dentist’s chair where the root cause can be addressed and further preventive care can be given to keep these issues from reoccurring.

Oral health has a significant effect on overall health. If prevention falls short, dental disease can create or complicate other medical conditions. Getting a patient back to good oral health will frequently require a specific diagnosis and aggressive treatment from a dentist. This is why it is so important that we all work together to reduce barriers to care.

We must acknowledge that barriers to dental care vary from person to person and are complex and multifaceted. To adequately address these obstacles, we must employ a comprehensive set of solutions. That’s why Vermont community dentists have responded to this challenge with the Vermont Action for Dental Health.

Our focus is on promoting education and prevention, as well as expanding dental care in underserved communities, schools, nursing homes and federally qualified health centers.  Our approach recognizes and addresses the social, cultural and economic barriers Vermonters may face when seeking dental care. This set of solutions includes only programs and policies that have measurable and proven results.

For example, a key solution for underserved communities is the expansion of the community dental health coordinator (CDHC) program. A recent pilot program in Vermont showed CDHCs can increase the number of low-income patients receiving care by 20 percent and with great promise in linking underserved communities with dental care. The other initiatives included in the Vermont Action for Dental Health are similarly designed — with proven methods at their core.

Vermont’s dentists are best equipped to ensure the highest quality, comfort and attention to detail in this highly specialized medical practice. Achieving our goal of quality oral healthcare for every Vermonter requires a thorough plan that measurably improves a system that already leads the nation. Healthy teeth and gums must not be a luxury afforded to only part of the population. The Vermont Action for Dental Health plan is the most effective way to address the oral health needs of Vermonters.

To learn more about this complete and equitable approach to addressing Vermont’s dental health care challenges, join the effort at www.VTActionforDentalHealth.org

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Dr. Stephen Pitmon is president of the Vermont State Dental Society and has practiced dentistry in Colchester for 27 years.