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Health care reform must address unmet oral health needs: ADA

Washington—The Association's health reform message to policy makers focuses on "a relatively small government investment" toward "significant improvement in the oral health of Americans."

In communications with President Obama and members of Congress, the Association and member dentists are telling policy makers that "more must be done to ensure that all Americans have access to quality oral health services." More than 500 tripartite dentists, staff and volunteers carried that message to Capitol Hill during the May 11-13 Washington Leadership Conference.

Congress and the Obama administration are engaged in a major health policy debate with Congress taking the lead, particularly the Senate, in crafting health system reforms. Bipartisan leaders hope to have legislation to the Senate floor this summer.

Oral health should be part of the policy discussion, the Association said in a letter to President Obama. "On behalf of the American Dental Association (ADA), which represents over 157,000 dentists nationwide, I would like to share our thoughts on how your Administration can work toward improving America's oral health," ADA President John S. Findley said in the April 28 letter.

"We believe that a relatively small government investment in the following three areas will lead to significant improvement in the oral health of Americans," Dr. Findley said:

  • mending a tattered Medicaid safety net;
  • rebuilding the dental public health infrastructure, which includes recruiting and retaining dentists who are competent in public health practices; and
  • adequately funding community-based prevention measures, such as water fluoridation, school-based sealant programs, and oral health prevention and education programs."

The ADA health policy communiqué, also sent to each member of Congress, expands on the three investments for health and focuses on access to care.

"For too long we have ignored the dire unmet oral health needs of a growing number of Americans unable to access dental care due to economic status, geographic location or a myriad of other barriers," the letter said. "The ADA is adamant that improving access to dental care for those most in need be the focus of any oral health component in a health care reform proposal."

The Association health reform message is rooted in policy approved by the ADA House of Delegates at annual session (ADA News Today Nov. 4, 2008, Health care reform policy).

The Association also participates in an ad hoc provider committee organized by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one of two committees taking charge of health reform efforts in the Senate, the other the Finance Committee.