Promoting A New Vision for Oral Health in North Carolina

Blog | July 10, 2023

image of NCIOM President & CEO Kathy Colville speaking at 2023 Oral Health Day

In a keynote address for the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative’s 2023 Oral Health Day, NCIOM President & CEO Kathy Colville, PhD, told the story of how her mother, a hygienist, instilled the importance of oral health in her from an early age. More recently, Dr. Colville had the chance to ask her aunt for her perspective on life from the age of 82. She said: “Keep your health. That’s number one. Teeth are important.”

Unfortunately, oral health is often siloed from other elements of physical health. But oral health is deeply connected to overall health, as well as to many facets of human connection: speaking, smiling, eating, and kissing our loved ones. Dr. Colville introduced the Oral Health Transformation Task Force, which is in the process of convening people from across the state to study and make recommendations related to:

  • Provider education and preparation
  • Administrative burden
  • Health data and program performance measures
  • Equity and access
  • How states have designed benefit and payment systems
  • The experiences of Medicaid beneficiaries navigating the oral health system in North Carolina
  • Information and health records
  • Payment design

Key takeaways from task force meetings thus far, which Dr. Colville shared with the Oral Health Day attendees, include:

  • Oral health is health, but the oral health system is not the same as the health system of care. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
  • Individual experiences of health are integrated, so our health care should be as well. This requires investment in providers, communities, and infrastructure to achieve functional, sustainable, and accessible services for all.
  • Reimbursement rates have changed very little in the past decade.

“Oral health leaders have an ambitious vision for children’s dental health in which every child has an established oral health home by age one, and people of all ages receive high-quality dental services and preventive care and education in their communities, in the languages and settings most welcoming to them,” said Dr. Colville. “The vision also includes using data systems to identify the most effective value-driven, whole-person care and providing meaningful feedback to providers.”

Dr. Colville provided a sneak peek at the Oral Health Transformation Task Force’s recommendation topics, which are a work in progress, but include: Payment Design; Consumer Experiences; Provider Supports; Pathway Development; Integrated Care; and Workforce Diversity.

The overall sentiment from task force members is, according to Dr. Colville: “We’re not just fighting for more months/years of healthy gums/teeth, improved blood sugar levels, and longer lives when we fight for oral health in North Carolina, we’re also fighting for what we get to do with those extra good months and good years, and all of those things are worth fighting for.”

Dr. Colville’s remarks were preceded by comments from Crystal Adams, MA, CDA, RDH, director of the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative, about 2022 Equity Summit Findings and Steve Cline, DDS, MPH, vice president of Oral Health at the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation.

A panel discussion moderated by Hugh Tilson, MD, MPH, director of North Carolina Area Health Education Centers, focused on health care integration. Panelists discussed the history of care coordination, current challenges and opportunities, the role of continuing education and patient education, and social drivers of oral health. Key goals for the future include: adapting to the changes that will come with Medicaid expansion, provider retention and recruitment, and improving equity and diversity in the field.

To learn more about Oral Health Day and the North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative click here.

To learn more about the NCIOM Oral Health Transformation Task Force, click here.