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Kaiser Family Foundation convenes dental coverage, access forum

Time for ‘talking to each other,’ says Dr. Dickinson

Washington—The health policy-analyst Kaiser Family Foundation introduced a dental access discussion June 19 with a segment of a PBS FRONTLINE television documentary featuring a dental therapist treating patients.

FRONTLINE offered a same-day preview of the film scheduled for June 26 airing, saying that “new research released today from the Kaiser Family Foundation highlights just how dire our dental care system has become.”

The KFF released a welter of oral health data that is more a collection of previously released information than new research, and while Kaiser’s bottom-lining of some of the data may be controversial, oral health policy is relatively unexplored territory for the foundation, which styles itself as “filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people.” Just introducing a dental access discussion is a first for the foundation.

Dr. Terry Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association, founder of the Missions of Mercy project and 2010 ADA Humanitarian Award recipient, set the tone for the KFF forum as one of four invited discussants of “the gaps and disparities in dental coverage and care in the United States today; the health, social and other consequences of these systemic deficiencies; and promising strategies for ensuring access to oral health for all Americans.”

“What I’ve found in Virginia is the power of collaborative agreement,” Dr. Dickinson told the KFF audience. “It puts everyone at the table but we must stop talking past each other and start talking to each other.”

Greg Nycz, executive director of the Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc., in Marshfield, Wis., Dr. Debony Hughes, program chief for the Prince George’s County, Md., Health Department’s dental health program, and Marcia Brand, a dental hygienist and deputy administrator of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, largely echoed the theme, each describing dental access projects dependent on community and professional collaboration.

The “dental therapist” was in the room so to speak, at least by way of FRONTLINE introduction, but did not figure prominently in the discussion. Dr. Dickinson, asked for “your view of the dental therapists,” replied, “I do have some concerns about the supervision issue.” He and Mr. Nycz also cited the needs of patients medically compromised and with complications that challenge dentists and physicians with all their training and could prove even more challenging to dental therapists.

KFF issued data charts at the briefing with these headings:

  • coverage for oral health is limited;
  • access is further complicated by shortages of dental providers;
  • rate of untreated caries among children by income, race/ethnicity and insurance, 1999-2004, and
  • time since last dental visit, nonelderly adults by income, 2010. 

The non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries. View an archived webcast of the June 19 event, read the transcript or download the podcast at http://www.kff.org/uninsured/kcmu061912pkg.cfm.