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COVID-19 Accelerates OR Project to Integrate Oral, Primary Care

From Public News Service

June 23, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Coronavirus is speeding up a project already underway to integrate dental care into primary care in an Oregon clinic.

Dentists and primary-care doctors face barriers to interacting, even though a person's dental health is integral to their overall health. While the collaboration was already going on, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center Dental Director Lisa Bozzetti said her staff was redeployed to the primary-care side when COVID-19 hit.

"It has helped to strengthen the relationships between departments," Bozzetti said. "I mean, we have never, ever been in this position where we worked so closely together. And our staff have actually been working together towards a common cause now."

CareOregon invested $2 million in five safety-net clinics in the Portland metro area to help dental and primary-care staff coordinate their services. The organization supported the clinics with learning collaborations, on-site team engagement and webinars.

Chief dental officer for CareOregon Alyssa Franzen said oral hygiene is linked to pregnancy outcomes, heart disease and chronic diseases like diabetes. And she said for kids, it's also linked to social determinants of health, like school attendance.

"It's now part of the kindergarten readiness work that's going on throughout the state," Franzen said. "So, we know that at various stages, oral health is an integral part of overall health, and a piece that we need to be addressing."

Laura Bylerly is medical director at Virginia Garcia. She said CareOregon has provided critical support to overcome other barriers, like lining up primary and dental health coverage for patients. She said it's becoming more common to think of dentists as partners, in the same way physicians partner with specialists like cardiologists.

"We're each becoming more aware of what the other side is trying to accomplish," Bylerly said. "And we're, sadly, more aware of the silo effect that has happened."