Pandemic workgroup urges agencies to prioritize oral health

The Oral Health Pandemic Response Workgroup, which includes the ADA, is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to ensure that oral health is recognized as integral to overall health.

"The pandemic has clearly shown that oral health inequities in our nation are profound," the groups wrote. "Access to oral health care remains out of reach for low-income families and individuals, communities of color, tribal communities and many rural communities."

In a Dec. 8 letter  to Adm. Rachel L. Levine, M.D., HHS assistant secretary for health, the organizations urged HHS to "capitalize on opportunities to advance oral health across its other administrative, policymaking, legislative and regulatory activities" and said "the ongoing revision of the HHS strategic plan provides an excellent opportunity for the comprehensive inclusion of oral health across the agency's efforts."

They also suggested some additional ways of integrating oral health into HHS' broader activities including:

- Ensuring oral health experts, including practitioners, are included on all health policy commissions, task forces, and health-related meetings hosted by the administration.
- Taking oral health into account for all health policy decision-making.
- Convening an oral health summit or creating other opportunities to seek input from oral health stakeholders.

In a Dec. 8 letter sent to Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the workgroup asked Dr. Tripathi to assist with the following:

- Examining the current status of integrating medical care and dental care data.
- Exploring opportunities to improve coordination of health information between medical and dental care providers.
- Developing recommendations for accelerating medical and dental data integration and improving interoperability.

The groups noted that streamlining the sharing of patient data between medical and dental providers could significantly improve patients' dental and medical outcomes.

"In your role, you are uniquely well positioned to engage key organizations across medicine, dentistry, health information technology, and federal and state entities to explore opportunities to improve the nation's oral health and overall health, by ensuring that providers have the information they need to provide patient-centered, comprehensive, and integrated medical and dental care," the letter concluded.

Formed in April 2020, the Oral Health Pandemic Response Workgroup comprises a wide-ranging group of stakeholders working together to address critical issues related to oral health created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group's focus expanded in 2021 to look at the broader role of oral health stakeholders in health care, including integrating oral health into overall health.

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