Improving Overall Health in Children Through Dental-Medical Integration

oral health navigator talking with kids through a medical-dental integration program at Phoenix Children's Hospital

Katharine Martinez, RDH, talks with children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as part of the Dental Oral Health Educator Program.


A child’s smile can do more than light up a room, it can serve as a barometer to overall health. However, in any given year, 108 million adults visit a physician but do not see a dentist, including more than 60 percent of children aged 1 through 4 years according to the ADA Health Policy Resources Center.  Coordinating dental care with primary care, also known as medical-dental integration or collaboration, is receiving increasingly greater amounts of clinical attention, research interest, and funding, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Delta Dental Institute.

At Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation, we’ve worked to increase the overall health of Arizonans by strategically investing in a variety of medical-dental integration programs. Since 2015, we collaborated with community health centers across the state to integrate dental screenings and fluoride varnish treatments into medical wellness visits for children. These programs ensure that in the child’s medical visit the patients are also seen by a dental student, dental hygiene student, or a registered dental hygienist. During the visit, the oral health care provider gives the child a dental screening, fluoride varnish treatment, oral health education, and if necessary, a referral to a dentist. Not only is this dental care interaction now part of the child’s medical record, but both the patient and their parents learn that oral health is important to overall health—which is especially important to families that make regular medical appointments but not regular dental appointments.

To reach more children through dental-medical integration programs, the Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation collaborates with Phoenix Children’s Hospital (PCH) on the Delta Dental Oral Health Educator program. A Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) educates clinical staff, nurses and physicians on how oral health can impact the treatment and medical outcomes of children. The educator works with leadership to create oral health protocols for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders (CCBD), which are executed daily by nurses and aides. The goal of the daily protocols is to lower the rates of central line infections in CCBD patients, a powerful testament to the link between oral and overall health.

Dental-medical integration is an important strategy in reaching a variety of populations that prioritize medical care over dental care due to cost factors, distance to a dental provider, lack of education on the importance of oral health, or other reasons. By incorporating basic dental care into appropriate medical settings, more children and adults receive care and learn about the importance of oral health and how it can impact their overall health.

Learn more about Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation’s community work here:

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