Ensuring Access to Dental Care

The North Carolina Oral Health Section (OHS) strives to improve the oral health of the vulnerable adult population targeting the frail elderly, persons with Intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), and pregnant women of North Carolina.

The N.C Oral Health Section provides preventive dental health direct services in all 100 counties. These services include targeted fluoride mouth rinse and dental sealant projects; dental assessments, screenings, and referrals; school and community educational services; and consultation services. Additionally, the N.C. Oral Health Section helped local agencies to expand and maintain their Safety Net Dental Clinics. The Safety Net Dental Clinics include public and private non-profit facilities providing ongoing, comprehensive dental care to low-income patients. The N.C. Oral Health Section supports expansion and operation of the Safety Net Dental Clinics, works with various public and private organizations, and works to increase access in a number of ways.

Special Care Dentistry

A 2010 Special Care Dentistry Advisory Group and other oral health stakeholders identified the state’s frail elderly and individuals with I/DD as vulnerable populations who frequently encounter challenges accessing dental care. Additionally, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America (2000) noted several health disparities that affect vulnerable populations and that the elderly and special needs populations have major unmet oral health needs.

In 2015, the OHS conducted the first statewide assessment of the oral health of institutionalized adults and oral health services offered by assisted living facilities. In response to findings, the Special Care Dentistry Program was developed to increase the oral health knowledge of residential facility staff through in-service training. This in-service training has also been adapted for use in residential facilities for persons with I/DD. Training facility staff to promote and provide proper mouth care to residents is an important first step to reducing the rapid decline in oral health often seen among institutionalized adults.

Perinatal Oral Health

Poor oral health during pregnancy can negatively impact the overall health of pregnant women and may contribute to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm delivery and low-birth weight. Furthermore, a mother’s oral health, dietary and oral hygiene practices and use of dental services are strong predictors of a child’s future experience with dental decay and overall oral health.

In 2018, the NC Perinatal Oral Health Task Force released Oral Health Care During Pregnancy: North Carolina Collaborative Practice Framework 2018 (PDF, 2.2 MB) to assist health care professionals respond to the need for improvements in the provision of oral health care during pregnancy.

The Perinatal Oral Health Program aims to improve the overall standard of care for pregnant women through in-service trainings to educate NC medical and dental providers on the importance and safety of dental care during pregnancy and collaborative practice to improve maternal-child oral health outcomes. Additional strategies and initiatives to promote an improved standard of perinatal care are being developed under a comprehensive Perinatal Oral Health Improvement Plan that targets health care professionals, pregnant women, program administrators and staff, policy makers, advocates and other stakeholders. The plan will be released early 2020.