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Roundtable highlights need for improving health literacy

January 21, 2019

By Jennifer Garvin and Michelle Manchir

Washington — The more dentistry and medicine work together, the better it is for patients. This was the overarching theme of the Dec. 6 workshop, Integrating Oral and General Health Through Health Literacy Practices.

More than 40 health professionals that included dentists, dental hygienists, Community Dental Health Coordinators, physicians, nurses, educators, policy experts, social workers and industry leaders gathered to discuss the ways health literacy can lead to improving the integration of oral and general health care and providing coordinated, patient-centered care for patients.

"We know that oral health is an integral part of overall health," said Dr. Nicole Holland, a member of the Roundtable on Health Literacy and an assistant professor and director of health communication, education and promotion in the department of public health and community service at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. "We also know that dentistry and medicine have historically been two siloed systems of care. The navigation of separate systems can prove difficult for many. The premise of this workshop focused on how health literacy can be used as a catalyst to integrate oral health and general health."

The event, hosted by the National Academy of Medicine, covered the following:

  • The benefits of integration.
  • Exploring how integration and health literacy can improve health and wellbeing.
  • Examples of organizational initiatives and priorities.
  • Integration through combined electronic health records.
  • Exploring the current gaps in research and how to fill them.

The workshop featured the commissioned paper "Integrating Oral Health, Primary Care, and Health Literacy: Considerations for Health Professional Practice, Education, and Policy" by presenter Dr. Kathryn Atchison, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry. Drs. Jane Weintraub and R. Gary Rozier coauthored the paper with Dr. Atchison.

The paper and a video of the proceedings are available on nationalacademies.org by searching "integrating oral health" and "primary care" and "literacy."

"Although more research on integration practices is certainly needed (as stated in the commissioned paper as well as acknowledged at the workshop), dentists play a key role in shaping the future of an integrated health system — one that will minimize system burdens and maximize health outcomes for our patients," said Dr. Holland, who is a member of the ADA National Advisory Committee on Health Literacy in Dentistry.

The ADA also offers health literacy resources online at ADA.org/healthliteracy.