Often overlooked in overall health is the importance of oral health. But 100 million Americans lack dental benefits, and in 2009, there were 830,000 emergency room visits for preventable dental problems.
Robert Faiella, president of the American Dental Association, said awareness of oral health’s importance isn’t enough, but he said the environment is changing with the help of community and state-level initiatives such as hospitals referring patients to local dentists.
Faiella was part of a panel titled “Can states strengthen oral health?” at Health Journalism 2013.
He also showed a video about an ADA initiative to add community dental health coordinators to the dental workforce. Dental health coordinators first go through 18 months of training, then help people navigate the oral health system, find transportation and address language barriers.
Joining Faiella on the panel were Mary Foley, executive director of Medicaid-CHIP State Dental Association, and Mark Nehring, chair of the Department of Public Health and Community Service at Tufts School of Dental Medicine.
Foley said that more federal, state and local agencies need to work together more effectively to target the underserved populations that account for a large percentage of dental diseases. While her fellow panelists both agreed that better coordination is necessary, all three said the big barrier to better oral health care across the country is funding.
“There’s a need to focus on the underserved population that has the bulk of disease,” Nehring said. “It’s funding that’s the problem.”
Foley said a lack of funding limits the sustainability of programs, which are also often unsupported by policy.
Federal funding for oral health programs and coverage has been in decline since the 1980s, Nehring said.
And the burden of implementing oral health programs is on the states.
“All the hard work happening in oral health is done by the states,” Nehring said.
But oral health coverage for Medicaid patients varies state by state, Foley said. Dental coverage under Medicaid provides comprehensive coverage for anyone under the age of 21, but the services must be “medically necessary,” terms that each state interprets differently.
I wonder if there are any data about the costs, the budgets necessary to provide basic oral health care?
How much for a visit, etc ?
Any research comparing the budget needs with (for instance) the budget spent on sugary drinks, the profits of the soda companies, how much a tax on those would bring?