A new report, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the DentaQuest Institute,outlines an approach to expand efforts to make the oral health caredelivery system accountable for quality and access. Although qualityimprovement in oral health lags behind similar efforts for overallhealth, these efforts are intensifying, according to the report, titled “Oral Health Quality Improvement in the Era of Accountability.”

The report comes as dental expenses now rank among the highestout-of-pocket health expenditures for consumers. In 2008, they accountedfor $30.7 billion, or 22.2% of total out-of-pocket health expenditures,second only to prescription medications, according to the Bureau ofLabor Statistics.

The report provides an overview of current efforts and cites elementsthat are critical for advancing this agenda: increased use ofelectronic dental records and integrated health records; bettermeasurement of oral health outcomes; new payment and incentivemechanisms; and expanded delivery of care by non-dental professionals,as well as new types of allied dental professionals.

The report outlines a number of systemic barriers that have slowedefforts to improve oral health care, including limited evidence of bestpractices for most dental procedures, which has led to widespreadvariation in clinical decisions among dentists. Also, the resport saysthat the government pays for only about 6% of dental care nationally andthere is no large provider organization representing dental practicesand patients that is pushing for improvements in care.

The report was released last week at a national meeting of oralhealth professionals, government leaders, consumer advocates, and othersheld by the Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Institute. The goal ofthe meeting was to launch a national dialogue on quality improvement andincreased access to dental care.