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Integrating Oral Health and Primary Care at Oklahoma City Indian Clinic

Author: Monica McKee, Vice President of Allied Services

My Journey into Oral Health

From a young age, I’ve been fascinated by the intricate details of the human body and the importance of maintaining overall well-being. This curiosity naturally led me to pursue a path in healthcare, but it was my fascination with the connection between oral health and overall health that truly ignited my professional journey.

Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the transformative power of a healthy smile. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about confidence, well-being, and the undeniable impact oral health has on our overall quality of life. This realization became the driving force behind my decision to dive into the oral health industry.

The dynamic nature of dentistry, dental hygiene, and oral care captivated me. I found joy in the idea of helping individuals achieve and maintain healthy smiles, knowing that it goes beyond just a routine check-up. It’s about empowering people to take control of their health and fostering a positive relationship with their oral well-being.

Throughout my educational and professional journey, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the transformative effects that oral health practices can have on individuals and communities. Whether it’s educating patients on preventive care, advocating for better oral health policies, or embracing the latest advancements in dental technology, every step of my career has been a fulfilling exploration of the multifaceted world of oral health.

My Work at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic

At the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, we work to break down silos and foster a holistic approach to health, recognizing the undeniable link between oral health and overall well-being. From cardiovascular issues to diabetes, the state of our teeth and gums can significantly impact our overall health. Recognizing the interconnectedness, I embarked on a mission to bridge the gap between dentistry and primary care. By integrating Dental Hygienists into the broader spectrum of healthcare services, we can address preventive measures, early detection, and collaborative care that encompasses the entirety of an individual’s well-being. At the heart of this transformative initiative are OKCIC’s Integrated Dental Hygienists (I-RDH), fully embedded in medical teams.

  1. Pediatrics

An I-RDH plays a pivotal role in ensuring timely pediatric screenings and delivering just-in-time education. This involves assessing oral health needs during routine pediatric appointments, providing critical oral hygiene instructions, and addressing any urgent dental concerns.

  1. Women’s Health

The I-RDH in OKCIC’s Women’s Health clinic focuses on the unique needs of prenatal mothers. From the moment of a positive pregnancy test, the I-RDH conducts oral health screenings, identifies urgent needs, and offers oral hygiene instructions. This includes navigating morning sickness and cravings in the first trimester, addressing mom’s oral health needs safely in the second trimester, and then emphasizing the importance of good oral hygiene practices for the baby.

  1. Metabolic Center

Recognizing the critical link between periodontal disease and diabetes, this partnership aims to provide targeted oral health care and plays a crucial role in disease control.

These examples highlight the power of collaboration between oral health and primary care. Our I-RDH’s are not just providers; they are integral members of medical teams, bringing oral health into the heart of comprehensive patient care.

Understanding the Barriers to Oral Health Care

To promote oral health in our community, it’s essential to acknowledge and understand the obstacles that individuals face. There are many in Oklahoma, but the following seem to be prevalent:

  1. Affordable Dental Care

A primary barrier in our community is access to affordable dental care. Many individuals find it challenging to access routine dental check-ups and preventive treatments. Financial constraints, lack of dental insurance, and limited availability of affordable dental services contribute to delays in seeking care until dental issues become more severe. In the Native community, even when dental services are available through IHS facilities, lengthy wait times for appointments exacerbate the challenge. The demand for dental care often exceeds the capacity of the available providers, leading to delays in receiving essential treatments. This situation not only hinders preventive care but can also result in the progression of oral health issues to more severe conditions.

  1. Oral Health Education Gaps

A lack of comprehensive oral health education is another significant challenge. Many individuals may not fully understand the connection between oral health and overall well-being or may not be aware of proper oral hygiene practices. Bridging this educational gap is crucial for empowering our community to take proactive steps in maintaining good oral health.

  1. Socioeconomic Disparities

Socioeconomic factors play a significant role in oral health outcomes. Individuals with lower incomes may face additional challenges in accessing dental care, affording necessary treatments, and maintaining consistent oral hygiene practices. Through community engagement, education, and advocacy, we can work together to dismantle these obstacles and pave the way for improved oral health for everyone in our community.

Promising Opportunities for Oklahoma

In the face of challenges, there are promising opportunities that instill hope for the future of oral health in Oklahoma. Recognizing that awareness is the first step towards change, we acknowledge the need for improvement highlighted by Oklahoma’s Oral Health Report Card, currently graded as a “D.” However, there are encouraging developments that fuel optimism for a brighter, healthier future.

  1. Oral-Systemic Link:

The oral-systemic link is a game-changer. More people are recognizing that oral health is intricately connected to systemic health. The ripple effects of poor oral health on conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes are now well-documented. With this knowledge, a holistic approach to healthcare is gaining traction, emphasizing the importance of addressing oral health to enhance overall health outcomes.

  1. Medical-Dental Integration:

Medical and dental care should not be siloed. It is a crucial step towards comprehensive healthcare. Oklahoma City Indian Clinic (OKCIC) is at the forefront of this movement, leading the way with its Integrated Dental Hygiene Program. This initiative not only exemplifies a successful model in Oklahoma, but holds the potential to influence dental integration practices across the nation.

  1. National Impact:

In 2023, I had the honor of presenting OKCIC’s Integrated Dental Hygiene Program at the 2023 CMS Quality Conference. This opportunity not only aimed at spreading the concept within Oklahoma but also had the potential to influence healthcare practices on a national scale. The ripple effect of such initiatives holds the promise of transforming how oral health is approached and integrated into broader healthcare systems. These positive developments give us hope and motivate us to continue our collective efforts towards creating a future where oral health disparities are addressed, and every individual has the opportunity for optimal oral health.

Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s Integrated Dental Hygienist Program

With certainty, looking back at the impact of OKCIC’s Integrated Dental Hygienist program over the past year is promising. The results speak volumes about the transformative power of integrating dental care into the broader healthcare model.

  1. 23% Increase in Dental Sealants:

The addition of an Integrated Dental Hygienist has led to a remarkable 23% increase in the presence of dental sealants. This preventive measure plays a crucial role in protecting teeth from decay, highlighting the positive influence of the integrated approach on oral health outcomes.

  1. 11% Increase in Topical Fluoride Application:

The data reveals an 11% increase in the application of topical fluoride, showcasing the commitment to preventive care. Fluoride application is a key element in promoting strong and healthy teeth, and this notable rise signifies a positive shift in oral health practices.

  1. 10% Increase in Dental Access:

Perhaps one of the most impactful outcomes is the 10% increase in dental access. This means more individuals are gaining timely access to dental care, addressing issues early on, and fostering a proactive approach to oral health.

These results underscore the effectiveness of the Integrated Dental Hygienist model in promoting preventive measures, enhancing access to care, and ultimately contributing to the overall well-being of the community. It’s a testament to the positive change that can be achieved when dental care is seamlessly integrated into the broader healthcare landscape.

How to Put Advocacy into Action

Getting involved in oral health advocacy can make a significant impact on raising awareness and promoting positive changes in oral health policies and practices. Here are some steps that readers can take to get involved:

Educate Yourself

Stay informed about oral health issues, disparities, and current policies. Understand the link between oral health and overall well-being.

Join or Support Advocacy Organizations

Many organizations focus on oral health advocacy. Consider joining or supporting groups like the Oral Health America, the American Dental Association (ADA), or local oral health advocacy organizations. One thing we’ve found is that a lot of good can come from advocacy organizations joining together to stand in solidarity.

Engage with Local Health Agencies

Connect with your local health departments and agencies to understand the oral health initiatives in your community. Attend meetings, provide input, and advocate for improved oral health services.

Reach Out to Policymakers

Advocate for oral health at the policy level by reaching out to local, state, and national policymakers and promote oral health awareness, specifically information about preventive care, the oral-systemic link, and resources available in your community.

Collaborate with Healthcare Professionals

Build relationships with local healthcare professionals, including dentists, dental hygienists, and primary care providers. Collaborate on initiatives to integrate oral health into overall healthcare.

Encourage Regular Dental Visits

Advocate for the importance of regular dental check-ups and preventive care. Encourage community members to prioritize oral health and seek dental services regularly.

Remember, even small actions can contribute to a larger impact. By getting involved in oral health advocacy, individuals can play a crucial role in improving the oral health outcomes of their communities.


One piece of advice that has been at the heart of our efforts to improve oral health in Oklahoma: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. While the walls of a dental office play a crucial role, addressing Oklahoma’s dental needs requires innovation and collaboration beyond traditional boundaries.

The dental landscape is evolving, and so must our approach to oral health. Oklahoma’s unique challenges demand creative solutions that go beyond routine dental care. Embracing innovation means exploring new avenues, adopting cutting-edge technologies, and being open to unconventional methods that can make a real difference.

No one organization or sector can single-handedly meet the diverse dental needs of Oklahoma. Collaboration is key. By bringing together dental professionals, healthcare providers, policymakers, educators, and community leaders, we create a network of support that can address oral health disparities comprehensively.

By thinking outside the box and fostering collaboration, you have the power to shape the future of oral health in Oklahoma. Your ideas, your efforts, and your commitment to innovation can contribute to a healthier and brighter tomorrow.

Thank you for being advocates of change and partners in the journey towards improved oral health for all in our community.