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ADA delivers Action for Dental Health report to Congress

'Dentists are making a difference'

May 19, 2014

By Craig Palmer

Washington—Dental leaders delivered a report to Congress during the May 19-21 Washington Leadership Conference describing Action for Dental Health initiatives across the country and urging lawmakers to cosponsor legislation to support this "grassroots movement to solve the dental health crisis in America."

The ADA-backed Action for Dental Health Act, HR 4395, would authorize grants totaling $20 million annually to state and local dental societies and other organizations at local and state levels to implement ADH initiatives to reduce barriers to care.

"To support this effort, we are asking Congress, health policy organizations, community leaders and ADA member dentists to support the Action for Dental Health Act," said a letter from the president of the American Dental Association, Dr. Charles Norman, introducing Year One: 2014 A Report to Congress. The Association launched Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference at the National Press Club on May 15, 2013.

"Action for Dental Health, in keeping with the American Dental Association's mission to advance the oral health of the public, encourages the creation of enduring, self-sustaining solutions to remove barriers to good dental health," Dr. Norman told Congress in the letter of introduction. "It is a community-based, three-pronged approach to provide care now to people who suffer from untreated dental disease, to strengthen and expand the public/private safety net and to bring disease prevention and education into communities." 

The Year One Report to Congress describes nine ADH initiatives under the three-pronged approach with "bold goals" to achieve them and includes certain baseline information and target dates. Dentists, community partners and patients also tell their stories of Action for Dental Health:

  • "The community recognizes a great need for dental care but doesn't necessarily know who to turn to for advice and direction on the topic," says Jenna Linden, a Community Dental Health Coordinator based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. "We can connect them to the care they need."
  • "There is no shortage of kids who don't have access to care," says Dr. Jeff Dalin, co-founder of Give Kids A Smile. "And it gets worse and worse as our economy is rough and people lose jobs and don't have dental coverage and just can't afford dentistry. And it's one of those things that they have to give up. If you have to choose between food or going to get dental care—food wins. So there is never a shortage of kids who need our help."
  • "[Emergency departments] really aren't equipped to provide any dental services," says Mark Crawford, vice president of Community Health Services at Bronson Battle Creek, a community hospital in Southwest Michigan. "And so the best that we can do for a patient with those kinds of dental issues is to provide pain relief. But most of these patients have no dental insurance. They have no regular dentists. They were very likely to have continued pain and to make a repeat visit to our emergency department."
  • "Dental health for one of our nation's most vulnerable populations, nursing home residents, is at a crisis point," says Dr. Sarah Dirks, a San Antonio, Texas, dentist. "They have less access to care than any other group in our country, and delays in treatment could lead to serious, even life-threatening infections. We must turn our attention to these issues before it's too late."
ADA Action for Dental Health: A Report for Congress

These and other ADH initiatives are more fully described in the Year One Report to Congress and at ADA.org/action. The website offers an Action for Dental Health map for tracking emergency room referral initiatives, Give Kids A Smile events, Community Dental Health Coordinators, fluoridation, Medicaid reform, federally qualified health centers, nursing home programs and collaboration with other health professionals and organizations.

"A year ago, the American Dental Association started a nationwide, grassroots movement to solve the dental health crisis in America," the Year One Report to Congress said. "One year later, we are proud to report that Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference has taken root in every state in our nation."

The report includes "a special thanks to ADA member dentists who are bringing Action for Dental Health to life in communities across the country. Over the past year, each state dental society has embraced Action for Dental Health and found ways to advance it at the grassroots level, with all states involved in at least one Action for Dental Health initiative in some capacity."

The invitation to Congress is clear: "We hope you will join us in our efforts to ensure that all Americans have access to good dental health."

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., introduced HR 4395 April 3 to advance dental initiatives by amending the Public Health Service Act "to improve essential oral health care for lower-income individuals by breaking down barriers to care." The proposed Action for Dental Health Act 2014 would authorize grants to support volunteer dental projects and for public-private partnerships to improve oral health education and dental disease prevention and Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance dental programs. HR 4395 was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Entities eligible for grants to support volunteer dental projects offering free dental services for underserved populations could include state or local dental associations, state oral health programs or a dental education, dental hygiene education or postdoctoral dental education program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation or a community-based organization that partners with an academic institution.

Entities eligible for public-private partnership grants could include a state or local dental association or a state dental association foundation that partners with public and private stake holders to facilitate the provision of dental services for underserved populations.