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Oral Health Needs and Experiences of Medicaid Enrollees With Serious Mental Illness

      Introduction

      Chronic dental diseases are among the most prevalent chronic conditions in the U.S., despite being largely preventable. Individuals with mental illness experience multiple risk factors for poor oral health and need targeted intervention. This study investigated experiences of Kansas Medicaid enrollees with serious mental illness in accessing dental services, examined their oral health risk factors, and identified oral health needs and outcomes.

      Methods

      Survey data were collected from October 2016 through February 2017 from 186 individuals in Kansas with serious mental illness enrolled in Medicaid. Data were analyzed quantitatively (descriptive and bivariate statistics) and qualitatively (for major themes).

      Results

      Despite Medicaid coverage of dental cleanings, 60.2% of respondents had not seen a dentist in the last 12 months. Reasons included out-of-pocket costs, lack of perceived need, uncertainty about coverage, difficulty accessing providers, fear of the dentist, and transportation issues. High rates of comorbid physical health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and current or former tobacco use were also observed.

      Conclusions

      Medicaid dental benefits that cover only dental cleanings and low levels of oral health knowledge create barriers to utilizing needed preventive dental care. Lack of perceived need for preventive dental services and lack of contact with dentists necessitates the development of targeted oral health promotion efforts that speak to the specific needs of this group and are disseminated in locations of frequent contact. The Medicaid population with serious mental illness would be an ideal group to target for the integration of chronic oral, physical, and mental health prevention services and control.
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