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Calif. Telehealth Project Aims To Boost Dental Care for Thousands

A group of 11 health care organizations are participating in a telehealth initiative to bring preventive dental care to more than 2,000 Californian residents, HealthyCal reports.

Background

According to CDC, tooth decay affects U.S. children more than any other chronic infectious condition.

However, data from California Medicaid Management Information Services show that just 27% of children who are eligible for Medi-Cal received dental care in 2011, compared with 34% who received such care in 2009. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.

Carmella Gutierrez, president of Californians for Patient Care, said that more than one-fourth of California children ages two to five and half of children ages 12 to 15 have had tooth decay.

She added that tooth decay can be linked to poor digestion, as well as heart and respiratory conditions.

Initiative Details

The initiative -- called the "Virtual Dental Home Demonstration Project" -- is operated by the Pacific Center for Special Care, part of the University of the Pacific's school of dentistry in San Francisco.

It serves children from low-income households and individuals who are elderly or disabled, among others.

For the initiative, registered dental hygienists and dental assistants visit several types of facilities, including:

  • Schools;
  • Residential facilities for people with disabilities; and
  • Nursing homes.

Using portable imaging equipment and an online dental record system, the dental hygienists and dental assistants upload dental and medical histories -- along with images -- to a website for remote dentists to review. The dentists then provide a treatment plan or refer patients with more complex conditions to a dentist in the region.

Initiative Results

Paul Glassman -- director of the Pacific Center for Special Care -- said that results from initiative sites thus far indicate that about 50% of patients are kept healthy through treatments provided by hygienists.

He said the other half are referred to dentists for more complex treatment (Graebner, HealthyCal, 2/5). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
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