In many parts of the country, limited dental resources force patients to take drastic measures to combat oral health issues. Such was the case in Polk County, Oregon, where few dentists are willing to accept patients insured by the state’s Medicaid program. Thanks to a forward-thinking project, however, Capitol Dental Care was able to bring preventive oral care to more than 700 low-income children, who may have had little recourse otherwise.
Combating a Common Problem
For Polk County residents insured by the Oregon Health Plan, it’s not always easy to find timely dental care. To the frustration of many, local dentists are often unwilling to accept these patients – and those who do tend to be booked for weeks in advance. In turn, needy patients are often forced to either wait for an appointment or travel to adjoining counties for dental care.
Sadly, many of these patients are children, who risk permanent dental issues when treatments are delayed. In September of 2015, Capitol Dental Care, Inc. (CDC) began combating this issue by creating a teledentistry pilot project that brought preventive dental care to several Head Start programs and three elementary schools in Polk County’s Central School District.
At the time, only a third of the county’s students reported having yearly dental check ups, while two-thirds were experiencing tooth decay. By leveraging CDC’s school-based Virtual Dental Home (VDH) model, however, students were able to receive routine dental visits from a team of expanded practice dental hygienists and dental assistants. The process included portable dental chairs and makeshift dental offices inside the school. Teledentistry was also used to remotely share radiographs and photographs with dentists. From there, dentists were able to create custom treatment plans and recommend long-term solutions for more serious dental ailments.
A Comprehensive Service
Part of the Oregon Telehealth Network for Oral Health, Capitol Dental Care’s VDH model involved a collaboration of teledentistry programs. This allowed for a more comprehensive list of services that included dental exams, fluoride-releasing fillings and routine cleanings with X-rays, intra oral photographs, fluoride varnishes, sealants and diagnostics.
By making these basic services available, CDC was able to achieve impressive results, which included a 94-percent service rate for children whose parents had given consent. The project also saw 83 percent of consent forms signed and returned by parents, exceeding initial target rates by 13 percent.
For more information on CDC’s Virtual Dental Home teledentistry model, including results, barriers and replication strategies, visit www.ruralhealthinfo.org.