Access to oral health care takes center stage

April 2, 2007
Association preside urges Congressional subcommittee to remember that oral health is integral to overall health and well being in making funding decisions.

CHICAGO--Marge Green, RDH, MS, president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association, spoke last week before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, on the necessity of improving access to oral health care in the United States.

President Green urged the subcommittee to remember that oral health is integral to overall health and well being in making funding decisions.

"The death in suburban Maryland last month of twelve-year old Deamonte Driver from an abscessed tooth provided all of us a tragic reminder that lack of access to oral health services can have serious--even fatal--consequences," said Green. "Deamonte's death from an abscessed tooth is particularly heartbreaking because dental disease is fully preventable."

During her testimony Green highlighted a number of key points for the subcommittee's consideration including:

* Dental caries (tooth decay) remains the single most common chronic disease of childhood, four times more common than asthma.

* As the Surgeon General has confirmed, there exists a "silent epidemic" of oral disease which affects our most vulnerable citizens--poor children, the elderly, and many members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

* As prevention specialists, dental hygienists understand that recognizing the connection between oral health and total health can prevent disease, treat problems while they are still manageable, conserve critical health care dollars, and save lives.

* ADHA is working to establish a new oral health care provider, the "Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner." This new provider would deliver preventive, therapeutic and minimally invasive restorative services directly to underserved Americans.

Green also asked the committee--in making their funding decisions--to fully fund important issues for the oral health community and underserved populations such as the Dental Health Improvement Act, the Centers for Disease Control's community water fluoridation and school-sealant programs, and other programs for dental research, scholarships, and faculty recruitment for dental and dental hygiene schools.

"The current oral health care delivery system is simply not meeting America's oral health needs," said Green. "ADHA urges the Subcommittee to provide funding to HRSA for a demonstration project which would test the feasibility of using an Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner--similar to a nurse practitioner, but in the dental arena--in order to improve access to oral health care in underserved areas."

Interestingly, on the same day as the Appropriations committee meeting, another hearing on oral health issues was being held in Washington, DC. The health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled, "Insuring Bright Futures: Improving Access to Dental Care and Providing a Healthy Start for Children."

A driving force behind this hearing was the tragic death of Deamonte Driver whose name was invoked throughout the hearing. Given the committee's jurisdiction over important issues such as Medicaid and reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, children's oral health was a main focal point of the hearing and the testimony.

Groups testifying included the American Dental Association, the American Dental Education Association, American Association of Dental Research, and the Children's Dental Health Project.

Among those giving testimony was Chris Farrell, RDH, MPA, a licensed dental hygienist. Farrell testified on behalf of the Michigan Department of Community Health, as an administrator of Michigan's Healthy Kids Dental Program.

The chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee is Congressman John Dingell (D-MI). Several members of the committee highlighted the importance of prevention.

For more information about ADHA, dental hygiene or the link between oral health and general health, visit ADHA at American Dental Hygienists' Association.