Could Dentistry Disrupt Healthcare?

Healthcare and dentistry continue to evolve, and the intersection of the two has never been closer. As dentists, you already know how valuable quality dental care is to your patients’ overall health. And, with the continued doctor shortage, dentists could be well-poised to fill a needs gap for patients. What if you could work more directly with patients’ primary care providers to deliver more streamlined care? Here’s how it could be done.

Disease Prevention and Management

Diseases like diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and even stroke can be spotted early on and/or treated as part of an oral health plan at the dentist. Once dentists see evidence of tooth or gum problems that typically present in pre-diagnosis of these diseases, he or she can refer the patient to the appropriate doctor. For patients who already manage these conditions, a joint partnership with the patient’s PCP can better manage chronic diseases. Electronic health records are already common, if not required, practice among dentists and PCPS alike. This makes the task of communicating patient charts and treatment plans among medical professionals much easier to implement.

Cancer Care

It’s estimated that more than a third of cancer patients experience mouth problems. These range from sore and dry mouth to gum sensitivity and jaw pain. Dentists who coordinate care with cancer treatment providers can offer those patients a more comprehensive, proactive oral health plan to ease some of the pain associated with cancer treatment. The same goes for patients treating HIV/AIDS – like cancer, these treatments weaken the immune system and typically cause patients to experience painful mouth conditions.

Dentists could work together with the patients’ doctors to better treat the cause, rather than the symptoms.

Expanding Dentists’ Role in Healthcare

It’s estimated that the demand for PCPs will experience a shortage of between 8.700 and 43,100 physicians by 2030. In rural areas, the expected shortage is much higher. Dentists can help alleviate this gap in medical care by expanding their involvement. They already have similar training in conducting and reading x-rays and biopsies. What if dentists would begin offering basic diagnostic and imaging services?

At a minimum, dental offices could begin offering preventative healthcare screenings for chronic medical conditions like hypertension or diabetes. This alone could save the entire healthcare system millions of dollars.

Finally, and perhaps most complicated, dentists could build new business models by partnering with doctors within the same office space. A shared patient experience would be streamlined, comprehensive, and coordinated as part of the patient’s primary health care plan.

Dentistry is changing. It will be important for dentists to consider more than simple fixes to make the patient experience more accessible and start looking at innovative ways to blend dentistry and healthcare in the years to come. Do you know any PCPs in your community who share a common patient demographic? Perhaps it would be worth a conversation about exploring options for joint treatment plans and how an arrangement might look. Contact us for ideas and the legal, tax, and regulatory considerations of an integrated healthcare model for your dental practice.