Safety-net clinics in your community may benefit from new federal dental care grants

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

Photo: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

New federal grants will help safety net clinics across the country to provide more dental care in their communities.

Nearly $156 million in oral health funding will enable clinics in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to employ oral health professionals to provide new or expanded services, federal officials recently announced.

The awards from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), will enable health centers across the country to hire approximately 1,600 new dentists, dental hygienists, assistants, aides, and technicians to treat nearly 785,000 new patients, officials said.

Dental services historically have been hard to find in rural and poor communities. The nation’s network of public and private non-profit health centers, which provide primary and preventive health care to approximately 23 million Americans, including many vulnerable and low-income families and individuals, have been making progress addressing the problem.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the share of health centers offering dental care rose from 63 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2013.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Sylvia Mathews Burwell

A U.S. Department of Human Services media spokesman told me that as of 2014 (the most recent data), 979 of the nation’s 1,278 health centers were offering on-site oral health care services. That’s about 77 percent of centers.

The health centers at that time employed more than 3,700 dentists, 1,600 dental hygienists and 7,400 dental assistants, technicians and aides. They served about 4.7 million dental patients and provided nearly 12 million oral health visits, according to HHS.

The new federal grants will help increase those numbers. “The funding … will reduce barriers to quality dental care for hundreds of thousands of Americans by bringing new oral health providers to health centers across the country,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement.

The department has posted a state-by-state map of awardees. Why not check whether a clinic in your community will now be able to provide new or expanded dental services with the grant money?

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