ADA president comments on Pew Center on the States' report

Feb. 23, 2010
Dr. Ron Tankersley addresses "The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children."

Comments by American Dental Association President Dr. Ron Tankersley
on the Pew Center on the States' report, "The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children"

"We welcome the Pew organization to our long-standing fight to improve the lives of American children by helping more of them enjoy the good oral health that too many of them now lack. Pew's presenting its information in the form of a report card makes it easy for anyone to understand that too many kids in too many states are suffering. And we face huge challenges in changing that.

"Even in states to which Pew awarded an 'A,' countless children lack access to dental care and suffer as a consequence. These children are just like your children. Except these children can't eat or sleep properly, can't pay attention in school, can't even smile because of untreated dental disease.

"We don't agree with everything in the report. But certainly, it highlights some of the major policy areas that the American Dental Association and state dental societies have advocated for years--things like increased Medicaid funding, school sealant programs, and community water fluoridation. It also highlights the urgent need for reliable routine data collection so that policies are well-informed and kids are not left suffering.

"The report does omit some policy areas that we believe are equally important to improving children's access to care. For instance, some states have innovative programs--like student loan forgiveness and tax incentives--to help dentists establish practices in underserved areas or practice in community health centers. And when it comes to fixing Medicaid, money is a huge issue, but it isn't the only issue. Patients and parents need oral health education to help them take care of themselves and their families to prevent disease. Many of them need additional services, like transportation, in order to be able to get to dental appointments. If Medicaid did a better job of these things, treatment costs would decrease because we would be preventing more disease and treating less.

"The ADA and state dental societies have a long history as the nation's leading advocates for oral health. ADA members donated some $2.16 billion in free care to disadvantaged children and adults, both as individuals and through such programs as Give Kids A Smile and Missions of Mercy, in 2007 alone. But we're the first to admit that we can't do this alone, and charity is no substitute for an effective, equitable oral health delivery system. We're grateful for assistance from the Pew Center and others who are willing to lend a hand in what undoubtedly will remain a long, tough fight."

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