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ADA President Urges Congress to Shore Up IHS Dental Care

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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 27, 2009—American Dental Association (ADA) President John S. Findley, D.D.S., told the U.S. House Committee on interior appropriations charged with funding the Indian Health Service (IHS) that the IHS dental workforce, already understaffed, faces a significant number of retirements by the most experienced dentists. He pointed out that this occurs at a time when "childhood caries and periodontal disease among diabetics are rampant.

Dr. Findley said that nearly 65 percent of the agency's dental specialists are eligible for retirement this year. He asked the subcommittee to increase the program by $1 million to train new specialists and to ensure that future budgets include that funding. Dentists who have completed residencies in pediatric dentistry, oral surgery and other dental areas provide badly needed advanced oral health care.

According to a 2007 IHS audit, only 36 percent of diabetes patients had at least one dental visit within the past year. Diabetics with severe periodontal disease have a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar than diabetics without periodontal disease.

The ADA president also requested a "stronger role for the director of the IHS Division of Oral Health and that funds be specifically allocated to the director of the IHS headquarters Division of Oral Health to ensure they are used exclusively for dental residencies.

Dr. Findley was unequivocal about the need to provide oral health care to Indian children.

"Approximately 79 percent of Indian children 2 to 5 years old have dental decay—a level that far exceeds other ethnic groups," he said. "The ADA would like to see this eradicated, and within five years, see that every Native American child is caries free."

The rates of decay among 2 to 5-year-old white children is 19 percent; for black children 29 percent, and for Hispanic children 41 percent.

Testifying before the House Committee on Appropriations' Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Dr. Findley expressed the ADA's position on several other IHS issues, including:

  • Health Information Technology - The IHS should allocate $6 million each year as a down payment on the $20 million needed to implement the electronic dental record system that will ultimately serve 230 federal and tribal dental programs.
  • Continue Upgrading Dental Facilities – The ADA urged Congress to continue its program of updating "modular dental clinics with state-of-the-art equipment which improves the effectiveness of oral health care dental services. There are at least 27 dental programs on the waiting list for updated equipment, and asked the Committee to continue this successful program by setting aside $1 million for FY 2010.
  • Centers of Excellence in the IHS Division of Oral Health – The ADA is urging Congress to make a priority of creating two centers of excellence for clinical training, to train and recertify dental assistants; and program management, to help dental programs become more efficient and effective in meeting the oral health needs of the people IHS serves.

Dr. Findley concluded by stating the ADA's commitment to working with Congress and the IHS "to aggressively reduce the disparity of oral disease and care that currently exists in Indian Country.

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA’s consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.