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The evidence is now overwhelming. Dental disease is a proven multimorbidity factor in numerous health conditions – conditions that are costliest to the health care system in both time and money. Driven not only by significant cost savings, but also by the now well-documented improvement in health outcomes and care-gap closures of patients with chronic illnesses, integrating dentistry with primary care is a fait accompli .

The 3.8-billion-dollar healthcare system can realize much better health outcomes at far less cost when dentistry is integrated into the system. At 17% of the GDP, healthcare costs need to be tightly managed and reduced. With dentistry being less than 5% of the total healthcare costs now able to save nearly the healthcare system between an estimated 10% to 30% of overall care delivery costs with markedly improved health outcomes, it is another powerful force that will drive medical-dental integration.

After 20-plus years, research has answered many questions: What systemic damage is caused by periodontal inflammation, caries, and sleep apnea? Now people are asking a different set of questions. How will the integration of primary care in dental practice impact the current dental practice business model? What resources and people will dental practices require to have an integrated model work? What kind of relationships outside the practice need to be established and managed for integration to work? What will be the impact if Medicare adds dental benefits, and how will this impact dental practices? How will dentists react to being part of a medical cohort team treating mutual patients with physicians and hospitals – which will dentists get paid?

Today, there is exploding activity by leading business innovators of DSOs, dentists in small group practices, 3rdparties, suppliers, hospitals, and hospitals systems, each now fully engaged moving forward in integrating primary care in dental practices. These leaders are establishing new kinds of relationships well beyond the walls of dental practice – hospitals, medical insurers, physician groups, and large employers. These leaders are figuring out how to make it work commercially as integration unfolds.

Integration is a time that’s come. But most dentists and their dental practices, as well as their professional organizations, are asleep at the wheel. Open your eyes, just look at what’s going on, what’s being written, spoken, and gossiped. Hundreds upon hundreds of research articles, case studies, and soon powerful cohort studies will be available. The involvement of prestigious think tanks, top universities, and conferences, all focused on medical-dental integration is happening right now. The Big Bang has banged.

Dentists and their stakeholders in dental practice need to wakeup to the overwhelming evidence proving beyond a doubt that gingival inflammation, caries, and sleep apnea are key factors in numerous health conditions. It is now well documented that healthier teeth and gums provide significant greater overall health benefits and effective care-gap closures. Furthermore, many primary care functions can be performed in the dental office, yielding better patient compliance while saving the healthcare system millions upon millions of dollars.

Integrating dentistry into the healthcare system will yield enormous cost savings for patients, employers, Federal and State governments, hospitals, and payers. Reducing costs, increasing efficiencies along with better health outcomes is where the healthcare system is going. In medicine, the current drive for value-based care / pay-for performance reimbursement is a clear indication the healthcare system is moving toward greater integration since patient’s health, not procedures, will decide reimbursement.

Time to wake up. Time to get educated. Time to read the literature and reports from the Santa Fe Group and the Harvard Initiative. Time to rethink what dental practice will be when it is integrated with primary care. Why, because this is the future that is absolutely going to happen.

Late to the party, playing catch-up, not believing it will happen, is being asleep. The alarm is ringing – time to wake up.

Dr. Marc Cooper

President and Elder

MBC Consultants, Inc.

Chairman, Host, and Producer

A Time That’s Come: The Integration of Primary Care in Dental Practice Conference

November 2nd, 3rd and 4th – Phoenix Arizona

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