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Targeting the 'dental divide'

ADA launches Action for Dental Health campaign

Washington—The Association, citing "a disturbing dental divide in America," announced a nationwide campaign May 15 to reduce the numbers of adults and children with untreated dental disease.

The ADA unveiled the multifaceted campaign, Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference, at a National Press Club event with national media representatives, members of Congress and oral health advocates and professionals.

"We've made great progress, with each generation enjoying better dental health than the one before," said Dr. Robert Faiella, ADA president. "But there's still a dangerous divide in America between those with good dental health and those without. Our mission is to close that divide. Good oral health isn't a luxury. It's a necessity."

The Association simultaneously released an ADA Dental Divide in America Study conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Association April 24-29 among U.S. adults. The study confirmed "a disturbing dental divide in America" that is also indicated by prior research from multiple sources, the Association said. The Harris study found:

• Nearly half of lower-income adults say they haven't seen a dentist in a year or longer, while the vast majority of middle- and higher-income wage earners (70 percent) have.

• Lower-income adults 18 and older are more than two times as likely as middle- and higher-income adults to have had all of their teeth removed (7 percent vs. 3 percent).

• Nearly one in five (18 percent) lower-income adults have reported that they or a household member has sought treatment for dental pain in an emergency room at some point in their lives, compared to only seven percent of middle- and higher-income adults.

• Only six percent of those low-income adults who went to the emergency room reported that the problem was solved.

• Even though the Affordable Care Act offers little relief for adult Americans who lack dental coverage, 40 percent of lower-income adults believe that health care reform will help them obtain dental care.

According to a new ADA Health Policy Resources Center analysis of 2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and U.S. Census data, 181 million Americans did not visit a dentist that year. Nearly half of adults over age 30 suffer from some form of gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly one in four children under age five already have cavities.

The Action for Dental Health campaign is national and coordinated in its scope and approach and designed to address the dental health crisis in three distinct areas, the Association said in a news release, which is posted at ADA.org with other campaign information. The three action areas are:

1. Provide care now to people suffering with untreated disease:

• Reduce by 35 percent by 2020 the number of people who visit the emergency room for dental conditions by referring them to community health centers, private dental practices or other settings where they can receive proper dental care.

• Implement in at least 10 states by 2015 a long-term care program to improve the oral health of nursing home residents.

• Expand the ADA Give Kids A Smile local community programs to provide education, screening and treatment to underserved children in order to achieve the vision statement of Give Kids A Smile–the elimination of cavities in children under age five by 2020.

2. Strengthen and expand the public/private safety net to provide more care to more Americans:

• Help provide more care to people by having private-practice dentists contract with federally qualified health centers, therefore increasing the number of patients receiving oral health services 175 percent by 2020.

• Fight for increased dental health protections and simplified administration under Medicaid by increasing by 10 percent the number of states that have streamlined their credentialing process to less than one month.

3. Bring dental health education and disease prevention into communities:

• Ensure that 80 percent of Americans on public water systems have access to optimally fluoridated drinking water by 2020.

• Increase from seven to 15 the number of states where Community Dental Health Coordinators are active by 2015. CDHCs provide dental education and prevention services to the community and help people navigate the dental health system.

"We need to remember that every infant is born cavity-free," said Dr. Faiella, ADA president. "The key for both kids and adults to maintain their dental health is effective prevention. That is why we are increasing our awareness efforts in schools and underserved communities. By working to ensure all Americans understand the connection between their dental and overall health, we can begin to solve this crisis."

To learn more about ADA's Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference, visit ADA.org.