WASHINGTON – The largest dental society in the country said Wednesday it wants to close the large gap between dental care received by lower- and higher-income Americans.
The American Dental Association launched a nationwide campaign – Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference – to address the country’s dental health crisis.
Its goals are to reduce the numbers of adults and children with untreated dental disease,through education,prevention and treatment.
“We can accomplish this by referring them to community health centers,to private dental practices or other settings where they can receive proper dental care,” Robert A. Faiella,ADA president,said at a press conference at the National Press Club.
According to a non-scientific online poll commissioned by the ADA,about a third of lower-income adults and a fifth of middle- and higher-income adult American have lived with an untreated cavity. About 40 percent of lower-income and about two-thirds of middle- and higher-income Americans have used dental insurance to pay some or all dental costs.
The survey of more than 1,200 adults defined $30,000 per year as low income.
The ADA believes the Affordable Care Act fails to address critical dental care for adults by lowering costs,increasing access and improving health outcomes.
“Dentists are stepping up where the government has failed,” Rep. Mike Simpson,R-Idaho,said. Simpson is a dentist who practiced for 22 years. He is a member of the House Doctors Caucus and co-chairs the Oral Health Caucus. He voted against the Affordable Health Care Act,but says in a statement on his website that he supports other methods to improve the health-care system.
According to the poll,40 percent of lower-income adults believe that health-care reform will help them obtain dental care. The association’s Health Policy Resources Center reports that an estimated 5.3 million adults are expected to gain oral health coverage as a result of the ACA,almost all due to Medicaid expansion in the few states that provide dental benefits. This will reduce the number of adults without dental benefits by about 5 percent.
In 2006,the ADA set up a program to bring oral health care to communities without enough dentists.
A pilot program is designed to provide additional training for dental assistants who work with poor patients to allow them to do more procedures.
Marsha Beatty,co-director of the program at the University of Oklahoma,said,the program trains a new type of dental worker who might work at a community health center or at an Indian tribe’s clinic. Some dentists volunteer to treat patients.
Angela Black,a services coordinator for the Chickasaw Nation Division of Health,used to treat patients as part of a team that went into the community. She praised the training.
“It was a combination of dental assisting at the facility,going out into the community with residential schools and senior cites. I learned how to navigate the system and [get] patients the care they need,” she said. “I realized I impact a lot of people,and now I’m getting to help those kids I grew up with,who didn’t have the dental care.”
The ADA’s initiative is a long-term care program to improve the oral health of nursing home residents and increasing the capacity of the Federally Qualified Health Center dental program by getting dentists in private practice to accept patients covered by Medicaid and Medicare.
Reach reporter Imari Williams at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.