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New report on health equity in America includes dental look

ADA President Maxine Feinberg contributes chapter

September 18, 2015

By Jennifer Garvin

Photo of Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill. 
Washington — A new report from Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., examines the causes and impact of health disparities among minorities.

The 2015 Kelly Report on Health Disparities in America includes a chapter on oral health authored by ADA President Maxine Feinberg. It also includes a comprehensive set of legislative and policy recommendations to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes nationwide. The report was released by the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust of which Rep. Kelly is the chair.

Rep. Kelly, who introduced H.R. 539, the ADA-backed Action for Dental Health Act earlier this year, is passionate about increasing access to health care in underserved populations.

“Oral health is critical to overall health, and any discussion of disparities in health status and health care among underserved populations must take that into account,” said Rep. Kelly, who represents Illinois’s 2nd District. “That’s why I introduced H.R. 539, the Action for Dental Health Act, to support dentists in their efforts to help all Americans attain optimal oral health. I thank the ADA for their contribution to The 2015 Kelly Report and for their fierce advocacy in addressing oral health disparities.”

In the report’s chapter on oral health, Dr. Feinberg writes, “Although oral health in the United States has by many measures improved dramatically over the past 50 years, it still represents a significant public health issue, one that affects low-income and minority populations disproportionately. The prevalence of preventable, untreated dental disease among racial and ethnic minority populations is unacceptable. We as a nation must do better.”

Dr. Feinberg’s chapter highlights the following:

  • Untreated dental disease disproportionately afflicts racial and ethnic minorities. Forty-two percent of African American adults and 36 percent of Hispanic adults have untreated disease, as compared to the 22 percent of Caucasians.
  • Untreated tooth decay in primary teeth among children ages 2 to 8 is twice as high for Hispanic and African American children, compared with Caucasian children.
  • While treating existing disease is critical, providing culturally competent oral health education and helping patients navigate an often daunting and confusing public health system are critical to helping families in underserved communities.
  • More minority dentists — practitioners, dental school faculty and students — are essential to reducing disparities.

Dr. Feinberg also called for reforms at the state and federal levels, focusing on improvements to Medicaid coverage, the Action for Dental Health Act, which supports activities that improve oral health education and disease prevention, as well as increased support for federal agencies and services aimed at reducing oral disease among underserved populations.

The full report is available on the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation website. The Association has also issued a news release on the report.