Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Healthy Smiles in Miami Dade Schools

We know from the successes of several of the DentaQuest Foundation’s grantees in Massachusetts that portable, school-based dental programs are a proven, effective public health approach to bring oral health services to children. Properly designed school-based programs can overcome many barriers that make it difficult for children to get care -- barriers such as parents getting time off from work to accompany the child, finding transportation to the dentist, and providing regular preventive oral health services for children participating in the Medicaid program.

This fall, the DentaQuest Foundation and the Miami-Dade office of Doral Dental, partnering with the Health Foundation of South Florida, The Children’s Trust, and two Miami community health centers, saw the start of the Healthy Smiles in Our Schools program in 17 public schools in Miami-Dade County.

The goal of Healthy Smiles is to increase the number of children receiving dental exams and treatment and to deliver these services in a practical and cost-effective way – at school where the children spend most of their day. Healthy Smiles is working in partnership with Health Connect in Our Schools, the healthcare program operated by The Children’s Trust in Miami Dade public schools.

The Healthy Smiles program is an example of how public education, philanthropy and public health in Miami Dade are working together to create a lasting solution for the oral health needs of South Florida’s children. Regular prevention measures like dental exams and putting dental sealants on the molars of adolescents can prevent dental disease that interferes with a child’s learning, speech, and eating, and which often leads to poor nutrition and problems in school.

Two community health centers, Borinquen Health Care Center and Community Health of South Florida, are the anchors for the project, providing the dental exams and treatment. The school-based program is an opportunity to provide necessary preventive care to children in Miami-Dade County and to connect their families with the clinics for ongoing comprehensive health care.

We are very proud to be part of this creative and practical partnership of healthcare, education and philanthropy.

Guest Blogging by Ralph Fuccillo, President, DentaQuest Foundation

Friday, November 13, 2009

Health Reform: Put Teeth in the Debate

While oral health is often overlooked in health policy discussions, it remains an essential element for good overall health. Dental health coverage from private insurers like DentaQuest embodies the best elements of a good health care system: it is relatively inexpensive and it promotes preventive care and early intervention.

It is good to see the provisions in the House of Representative’s bill, Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962) that include children’s dental care in the essential benefits package. The procedures to be included in the essential benefits have not been discussed yet, but we are hopeful that organized dentistry will have an opportunity to outline the set of essential benefits. Adult dental coverage is not included in the reform bill, so while children might be insured through the “Exchange”, their parents would have to seek coverage in a different plan.

That would have the unintended consequence of dividing children’s coverage from their parents. Good oral health is critical for the entire family—parents and children alike. If parents don’t see a dentist because they don’t have dental insurance, then chances of their children seeing a dentist drop significantly. And that may mean that many childhood diseases, like early childhood caries – an entirely preventable bacterial disease—are less likely to be caught and treated early.

Americans understand how important dental coverage is to them and their families. In a recent poll by Oral Health America, nearly two out of three U.S. adults (63 percent) agree that dental coverage should be part of an overall health reform package. Forty percent believe this is very important.

Despite these facts, the recent discussion of health care reform has ignored oral health, rather than including it as a critical element of comprehensive health care.

The Senate Finance committee proposal has a solution that works for families. It allows family dental coverage to be offered through a dental insurance company and still makes sure that children’s dental needs are covered. Since over 97% of Americans currently receive their dental benefits this way today, please join me in letting your Senators know that you want family coverage to continue.