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Statement by ADA President William R. Calnon, D.D.S., at Rep. Elijah Cummings Forum on Children's Dental Health

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Baltimore, Feb. 22, 2012—"Five years ago we lost a boy to dental disease that could easily have been prevented or treated early in its progress. Deamonte Driver's death was a wakeup call to which the state of Maryland has responded admirably, putting new systems in place and bringing more dentists into the Medicaid system. In fact, Maryland has improved so impressively that it was ranked as the top-performing state in the latest report on children's dental health published annually by the Pew Center on the States. Public officials at both the state and national levels have gained an awareness of the great need for a better dental safety net for children and adults and have taken action to try to prevent another tragedy like the one that brings you together today.

"But much remains to be done. Millions of children nationwide still go without regular dental care. And while tragedies like the one that befell the Driver family are mercifully rare, less newsworthy ones occur every day in every state, in virtually every town and city. Children with untreated dental disease cannot eat or sleep properly, cannot pay attention in school, cannot smile. The pain and chronic infections they live with impede virtually every aspect of their lives.

"This is nothing short of a national disgrace. And it doesn't have to be this way. Significant reforms are possible, reforms that cost little and that could extend good oral health to many more underserved and neglected individuals and communities.

"A comprehensive, coordinated approach for health education and promotion, care coordination and effective prevention is critical to improving the oral health of the underserved. The ADA is committed to working with all stakeholders to repair and grow the oral health safety net. Our degree of success will hinge on these fundamental principles:

  • "Prevention is essential. The nation will never drill, fill and extract its way to victory over untreated oral disease. But simple, low-cost measures like sealing kids' teeth, increasing water fluoridation and educating children and adults about preventing oral disease, expanding the number of health professionals capable of assessing a child's oral health, and linking dental and medical homes will pay for themselves many times over.
  • "Everyone deserves a dentist. The existing team system of delivering oral health care in America works well for patients in all economic brackets. It does not need to be reinvented. Rather, it needs to be extended to more people. Creating a separate tier of care for underserved populations will sap resources from solutions that already work, and will do comparatively little to improve the oral health of those in greatest need.
  • "Availability of care alone is not enough. In too many cases, people are unable to take advantage of free or discounted care. This owes partly to the need for better attention to social or cultural issues, oral health education, and greater support for patients who need help with transportation, child care, permission to miss work or other non-clinical services.
  • "Silence is the enemy. It has been 12 years since Surgeon General David Satcher famously called untreated dental disease a 'silent epidemic.' Let's break the silence. 

"With the acknowledgment that change to the current system is a process and not an event, the ADA is determined to lead what must be the concerted efforts of not only the dental profession, but also governments at all levels, the private and charitable sectors, and all Americans with the will and desire to achieve the goal of a healthier, more productive nation. If all of the stakeholders involved keep that goal at the forefront of our thinking and actions, we can truly break down the barriers that impeded too many Americans-especially children-from achieving optimal oral health."

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 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 www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA’s consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.