Oral Health Project

PI:  David Meltzer, MD, PhD

Does having consistent dental care at a reduced cost improve overall systemic health?

There is growing evidence that oral health problems can also lead to overall, systemic health problems such as nutritional deficiencies, lower mental health and cognitive function, systemic inflammation, and many others. However, many adults cannot afford dental care to avoid these problems, and Medicare does not currently cover the costs for routine dental care.

Although some might argue that most dental health problems in hospitalized patients are not acute, we suspect that many are unlikely to be treated before progressing to produce greater adverse health effects. As leaders in hospital medicine, we know that while hospitalists focus on acute illness, the field also recognizes that hospitalization is an opportunity to develop plans to address subacute and chronic health issues before they progress. We hypothesize that addressing dental health issues for hospitalized patients is such an opportunity and that studies demonstrating the dental health problems of hospitalized patients and effective interventions to address them could alter hospital medicine practice nationally.

Even though there is some evidence, there is no real published research to confirm that giving discounted, long-term dental care will result in improved oral and overall health. Our goal is to show policymakers that there is a connection between oral health and systemic health by providing free routine dental care to older adults ages 65 and up on the South Side of Chicago.