While we all paid close attention to health care in the Senate last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee made a critical, yet mostly overlooked step to advance oral health for at-risk populations.
On July 27th, the Committee unanimously passed HR 2422, or the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017. This bill calls for Congress to authorize additional oral health promotion and disease prevention programs to help at-risk populations struggling to obtain appropriate oral health care.
The bill points out that more than 181 million Americans will not see a dentist, but almost half of people ages 30 and older have some form of gum disease and nearly a quarter of children under age 5 already have cavities.
As we at DentaQuest well know, caries is the most prevalent chronicdisease among children and can be prevented. What’s more, we see time and again that Americans of all ages are in desperate need of access to oral health care - Missions of Mercy like the one in Wise County, Va., is a great example. Both the Washington Post and The New York Times covered the July event, for which thousands of people come from miles away and lineup for hours and even days just to get access to dental and other services.
If this new legislation passes through Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will award grants and collaborate with states, counties, public officials, or other stakeholders to implement a variety of initiatives.
These activities could include oral health programs that:
· more broadly use portable/mobile dental equipment;
· facilitate the establishment of dental homes;
· eliminate geographic, language, cultural, or other barriers to care;
· reduce the use of emergency departments for dental conditions; and
· provide dental care to nursing home residents.
It is exciting to see bipartisan support for dental care initiatives that have tremendous impacts on the oral and overall health of patients. This type of work will drastically improve the health of Americans. And it has the ability to address the estimated $2.6 billion in free care that dentists currently deliver, as well as the nearly $2.1 billion spent on dental cases in hospital emergency departments – 80 percent of which could be treated in a dental office for roughly $4 million total, according to the bill.
Bipartisanship like this must continue and we urge legislators to make oral health a critical component of any health reform legislation that passes through this Congress.