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Multifaceted Approach Required to Fix Dental Care Access Problem, ADA Tells Congress

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Telephone: 312-440-2806
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Washington, D.C., Feb. 29, 2012 – The Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), today held a hearing on “The Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Expand Access.” The American Dental Association (ADA) welcomed the hearing in the hope that it will spur lawmakers to address the many barriers to oral health while rejecting the suggestion that there can be a simple fix to the problems.

The barriers to oral health among the 50 states are just as varied as the maladies that can send a patient to the dentist in the first place. They include a lack of dental insurance, cultural and language barriers, low oral health literacy and failure to access preventive services.  Overall, the nation suffers from lack of understanding about the importance of dental health as part of one’s overall health. Many states are working to improve the situation for underserved populations by addressing shortcomings in public assistance programs. The ADA cited recent experience in Sen. Sander’s home state:

“According to information included in the Pew Center on the States May 2011 report, Vermont has steadily increased utilization among its pediatric Medicaid population from 48.9 percent in 2000 to 57.3 percent in 2009.  Data on the number of third graders in the state with dental sealants indicates a rate of 66.1 percent. In addition, only 2.5 percent of Vermont’s residents live in a dental health professional shortage area. The report indicates that it will only take one additional dentist to remove the shortage designation in Vermont.”

Dentists will continue to collaborate with policymakers and members of the public health community around the country to craft access solutions that are tailored to local needs and challenges. These include increasing Medicaid funding; preventive measures such as school dental screenings and sealant programs; expanding student loan forgiveness programs to encourage more dentists to practice in underserved areas; and reducing the red tape that sometimes makes it difficult for dentists to provide care through Medicaid or to specific communities, such as Native Americans.  But states and the federal government must do their parts, at a minimum maintaining their existing commitments to providing oral health care for the millions of Americans who are most in need, especially children. The dental profession and its allies will continue to lead the fight to break down barriers to oral health for all Americans, and we invite all organizations and individuals who share this goal to join us.

The ADA statement is available online at http://www.ada.org/sections/advocacy/pdfs/statement_120227_expandaccess.pdf.