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2020 Surgeon General Oral Health Report: NRHA Submits Comments

On January 25, following the Surgeon General’s request for comments on its forthcoming 2020 Oral Health Report, NRHA submitted a comment letter to the Office of the Surgeon General, outlining our recommendations to improve oral healthcare in vulnerable rural areas. In the letter, NRHA urges the OSG to promote rural health by including a rural lens in research and decision making, supporting clinical training, improve oral health literacy in rural communities, and employing private-public parternships to improve resources to advance oral health initiatives in rural America.

As the population grows and ages in the United States, medical and dental profession shortages are predicted to worsen, especially in the rural health setting. As was established in a previous Surgeon General’s report on oral health, the mouth is often a window to the body, and poor oral health is often a sign of other health issues. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology (June 2018) indicates there is growing evidence that chronic oral infections like periodontal disease can lead to cerebrovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and high obstetrical complications. Good oral health is a tool for improving rural-urban health disparities, albeit one often not readily available to rural populations.

While the call for general solutions included in the Surgeon General’s report is necessary, rural specific solutions are essential to improving the health of rural Americans. Solutions focused on large urban populations often fail to translate to rural America due to great geographic distances, lack of health care resources, and cultural differences. Broad recommendations, such as integration of oral health care into the primary care setting is applicable but to make this actionable requires a policy focused on the providers most likely to provide care in rural America such as rural health clinics. Therefore, we believe the application of a rural lens to these otherwise broad policies will allow them to be targeted to rural populations to move the needle on improving oral health in America.

NRHA made a series of recommendations:
  1. NRHA encourages the continued use of evidence-based strategies to reduce oral health disparities in rural America.
  2. NRHA supports the expansion of oral healthcare access through workforce capacity growth.
  3. NRHA believes in strengthening public health initiatives to support the health of residents in underserved rural communities.
  4.  NRHA also supports innovate Public-private partnerships to deliver better oral health results.
These recommendations and strategies will help close the gap on oral health disparities in rural areas that is critical to the overall health in these communities.  These initiatives are effectively designed to increase awareness of unique rural oral health challenges among medical fields and increase access to dental services for Americans living in rural areas.

We appreciate the continued commitment from the Office of the Surgeon General to the oral health needs of the 62 million Americans living in rural areas and look forward to our continued collaboration with the agency to improve health care access and quality throughout rural America.  

To read the full comment letter, please visit our website here.

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