Faculty and Staff, Pediatric Dentistry, Research

Study Finds Physician-based Preventive Oral Health Services Improves Availability of Care

A recent study by UNC School of Dentistry researchers found that physician-based preventive oral health services can improve access to oral care in areas with few dental providers and especially in young Medicaid enrollees.

The study, which was published in this month’s issue of Health Affairs, illustrates the need for better access to dental care in North Carolina. The state currently ranks 47 out of the 50 U.S. states in access to dental care.

“Access to dental care is an important issue especially for young children living in poverty,” said Dr. Ashley Kranz, adjunct professor at the UNC School of Dentistry Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “This study illustrates how medical providers can help to fill literal geographic gaps in access to dental care for infants and toddlers enrolled in Medicaid.”

Most state Medicaid programs provide reimbursement for physician-based preventive oral health services, like fluoride varnish. The study examined the locations of dental and medical Medicaid practices that provide pediatric preventive oral health services and then looked at claims data to assess the association between distance from these practices and the use of those oral health services. The results showed that children who lived farther from the nearest dental practice were less likely to make dental visits, but that distance from medical practices did not predict use

“Infants and toddlers are recommended to make many well-child medical visits during the first few years of life, which makes medical offices a convenient location to delivery preventive oral health services,” said Kranz. “Expanding the number of medical providers delivering preventive oral health services nationwide would aid in the efforts to improve access to care for young children.”

Kranz’s paper was co-authored by the Department of Pediatric Dentistry’s Dr. Jessica Lee, chair and William Demerrit Distinguished Professor; Dr. Kimon Divaris, associate professor; Ms. Diane Baker, research associate; and Dr. William Vann, Jr., research professor. The study was funded by the NIH/NIDCR.