Skip to main content
Rural Health Information Hub

Oral Health-Primary Care Integration and Collaboration Model

Rural communities are using strategies to integrate and improve collaboration between oral health and primary care. Examples of these strategies include:

  • Establishing open lines of communication between dental and primary care providers
  • Creating interdisciplinary teams where dental hygienists work alongside healthcare providers to provide oral health screenings, guidance, and other services and referrals (see Allied Health Professional Model).
  • Establishing referral partnerships between dental clinics and primary care practitioners (see Dental Home Model). Non-dental primary care practitioners can play an important role in the prevention of dental caries.
  • Using school-based models for dental assessment that refer children to a source of primary care (see School-Based Model).
  • Implementing a health commons approach to integrate oral health and primary care services.

Health commons sites are primary care safety net practices that include medical, dental, behavioral, public health, and social services. This approach has been used to integrate oral health and primary care for rural people with lower incomes who are uninsured. One community in New Mexico used the health commons approach to pool resources from different public and private partners in the community.

Examples of Rural Oral Health-Primary Care Integration and Collaboration Programs

Implementation Considerations

Dental and medical healthcare often operate in siloed systems of care, making it difficult to integrate services. Partnerships play an important role in overcoming these barriers and in the implementation of this model. Federally Qualified Health Centers are an example of successful integration of oral healthcare with services like primary care, mental/behavioral health, and other services.

In addition to integrating dental care and primary care, innovative programs are exploring the integration of and collaboration among dental care with mental and behavioral health services. Integration of dental care and mental and behavioral health may be especially helpful for people with persistent mental health or substance use issues who often access care via safety net providers.

For additional information on integrating rural services, see RHIhub's Rural Services Integration Toolkit.

Resources to Learn More

Case Studies of 6 Safety Net Organizations That Integrate Oral and Mental/Behavioral Health with Primary Care Services
Detailed analysis of six Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), including one rural, that integrated oral health and behavioral health with primary healthcare services. Interviews were conducted with FQHC leadership, management, and clinical professionals to recognize the structures and processes supporting service integration for patients. Discusses the advantages of co-location of services within FQHC sites.
Author(s): Langelier, M., Surdu, S., & Goodwin, N.
Organization(s): Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC)
Date: 2/2019

Integrating Oral and General Health Through Health Literacy Practices: Proceedings of a Workshop
Overview of integrating oral health with general medicine focusing on the role health literacy plays in the process. Describes how health literacy and care coordination improve health, identifies methods and critical components of integration, and discusses the development of policies and practices affecting integration.
Organization: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Date: 2019

Oral Health
Describes the components of the Integration of Oral Health and Primary Care Practice initiative, which strives to improve access to early detection and preventive interventions by expanding oral health clinical competency of primary care clinicians.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)