Oral health and dental care is experiencing a decline in use and an increase in accessibility inequalities in Colorado, but the legislature has not taken action, according to Colleen Lampron, Owner of AFL companies—A public health planning and management company.
She says 1.3 million Colorado—or 25.1%-lack of access to dental insurance and only 28% of dentists in the state served Medicaid patients in 2018. This leaves 40% of Coloradans without reliable dental care.
However, Lampron says teledentistry and community dentistry could be the answer to tackle inequalities and gaps in insurance coverage.
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In 2020, dental use fell 34.4% in Colorado due to the pandemic. Without a model of teledentistry statewide, many people did not receive the dental care they needed.
In the last legislative session, lawmakers adopted Senate Bill 139 regarding reimbursement for telehealth, but Lampron says the Department of Health Care Policy and Funding (HCPF) “does not pay for all of the care that could be provided through telehealth.”
Lampron says the gap in dental coverage particularly affects low-income communities. For example, in low-income schools, students have triple the sickness rate compared to schools with smaller proportions of low-income students.
“With oral health in Colorado, we don’t really recognize this as a health issue, and we tend to leave it in the hands of dentists who are actually trained to treat dental disease. “
Medicaid members face many barriers to accessing reliable dental care. In 2014, the Colorado Dental Association launched the “Take 5” program to encourage dental providers to accept five Medicaid patients per year through “incentive payments to help offset certain set-up costs associated with enrollment, staff training and systems learning billing “.
Lampron says that although 60% of dentists participate in the program, not all of them actually see Medicaid patients. She says 29% of dentists fall into this category. Of the 28% of dentists who saw Medicaid patients, 5% served 1 to 9, 12% served 10 to 100, and 11% served more than 100 patients.
Lampron says Medicaid patients also face barriers due to their ability to find care. She says dental offices are most often located in “wealthier” communities with no bus stops. Therefore, a vehicle would be needed for a low-income person to access care, which she says is a major problem for many people in Colorado.
She also notes that it is difficult to meet dental office hours for many low-income people who have multiple jobs or cannot afford to take time off to take their children out of school for an appointment. -you.
To address these issues, Lampron says expanding and investing in teledentistry is the answer. In this new model of teledentistry, necessary cleaning equipment, such as a toothbrush and fluoride, is sent to the patient with instructions on proper brushing, flossing and fluoride techniques. . The dentist could then participate in a teleconference and further assist the patient while providing expert advice and consultation on their care.
Lampron says it’s especially “powerful” for parents who can take charge of their child’s dental care and have a better understanding of how to keep their child healthy. This allows a healthy child to see the dentist less in person, which would then make room for someone with more in-person dental care needs and reduce traumatic experiences for children at the dentist’s office, Lampron explains.
A teledentistry appointment costs only half of what an in-person cleanup costs, Lampron says. These lower costs can help increase opportunities for underserved patients.
Lampron says the state needs stronger advocacy and an oral health coalition to get the word out and help change the dental system.