ADA President Makes Case to Congress for Indian Health Service Dental Programs
April 08, 2014
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Washington, D.C., April 8, 2013—The Obama Administration’s proposal to fund the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) Division of Oral Health for fiscal year 2015 at approximately $175 million, while adequate to maintain current programs and staff new facilities, won’t address the increasing rates of oral disease in tribal areas, American Dental Association President Dr. Charles Norman told members of a House panel.
“The proposed 2015 budget for the IHS dental program allows only $83 in dental care for each of the 2.1 million people served by the IHS,” he said, testifying before the House Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations. “That amount doesn’t even cover one dental visit a year.” Dental care expenditures in the United States as a whole amounted to $353 per capita, he added.
Dr. Norman told lawmakers that tooth decay in Indian Country had reached epidemic proportions. According to data from the Navajo nation, tooth decay is present in 48 percent of 1-year-olds and up to 94 percent of four year olds. The decay rate of pre-school Navajo children is the highest in the nation. The decay rate in 4-year-olds nationally is approximately 35 percent.
While the ADA accepts that Congress is not likely to fund IHS’s Division of Oral Health to the level the agency truly needs to fulfill its mission, Dr. Norman said, the Association does urge lawmakers to appropriate an additional $4 million for projects that can have real and immediate impact, like improving dental record keeping and implementing preventive measures.
Further, he stressed the importance of streamlining reducing the amount of paperwork dentists must submit in order to volunteer in Indian Country.
Dr. Norman outlined several initiatives of the Native American Oral Health Care Project, a joint ADA-state dental society initiative to improve dental health among Native Americans. The recently launched project facilitates cooperative efforts between tribes and state dental associations in Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota to reduce the incidence of oral disease in underserved areas.
He also explained how Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHCs) can dramatically improve dental health education, as well as access to dental health care.
The CDHC focuses on dental health education and disease prevention, and on connecting people with dentists, Dr. Norman said. “They work in the communities to educate people about diet, dental hygiene and how good oral health results in better overall health. Today, eight American Indian CDHCs are serving at 15 sites.”
“The ADA is committed to working with you, the IHS and the Tribes to aggressively reduce the disparity of oral disease and to increase the level of dental care that currently exists in Indian Country,” Dr. Norman told the subcommittee. He added that oral disease is preventable especially if individual and community-based prevention programs are in place, along with an oral health literacy program supporting all other efforts.
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The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 161,000 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 ADA.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA's consumer website MouthHealthy.org