Wisconsin Medical-Dental Integration Project: Connecting Oral Health to Overall Health

October 15, 2019

The burden of dental disease on Wisconsin residents is significant. Currently, Wisconsin is ranked 50th among all states for access to oral health services for children enrolled in Medicaid. According to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services, in 2016 only 1 in 5 Wisconsin Medicaid-eligible children ages 0-5 years received preventive dental services. Frequently, persons affected by dental disease must seek dental care in hospitals – in the emergency department for non-traumatic dental pain, and in hospital operating rooms for special dental needs that can only be addressed surgically.

A new initiative, the Wisconsin Medical-Dental Integration (WI-MDI) Project, aims to address the burden of dental disease in Wisconsin through an innovative model of integrating dental care into regular medical checkups. The WI-MDI is a collaboration funded in part by the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment at the Medical College of Wisconsin and will run through 2021.

The MDI Project held its first learning session Oct. 7 and 8 in West Allis. The session included teams from WHA members Gundersen Health System, HSHS St. Vincent Hospital, and Advocate Aurora Health Care, as well as a team from the Waukesha County Community Dental Clinic that is currently seeing pediatric Medicaid patients at Froedtert’s Town Hall Medical Center in Menomonee Falls. Additional teams from UW American Family Children’s Hospital, Ascension, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin are expected to participate. These teams will test various strategies to integrate dental hygienists into primary care settings to improve access to primary preventive oral health services.

Integrating dental care into the medical office is a relatively recent trend that reflects growing consensus about the crucial connection between oral and overall physical health. Early childhood caries is the most prevalent pediatric disease and has significant physical health impacts including tooth pain, which makes it difficult for a child to eat, grow and focus in school. Target populations of the WI-MDI project are children ages six months to five years and pregnant women without a dental home during pregnancy. Children visit a physician up to eight times from birth to age five, which provides many opportunities for early prevention of dental disease. Prenatal visits are recommended monthly up to the seventh month of pregnancy and more frequently thereafter until birth. Services provided through the WI-MDI project will be dental risk assessments, fluoride treatments, prophylaxis, referrals for further treatment and case management.

The WI-MDI Project is seeking additional health systems to participate in this initiative prior to the next learning session which will be held in March 2020. For additional information, contact WHA Vice President of Policy Development Laura Rose.

This story originally appeared in the October 15, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter