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Organized dentistry supports oral health literacy

Bill calls for HRSA to develop a nationwide campaign

March 04, 2020

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The Organized Dentistry Coalition is applauding Congress for introducing legislation aimed at improving oral health literacy.

In a Feb. 26 letter to Reps. Tony Ca╠ürdenas, D-Calif., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., the coalition — led by the Academy of General Dentistry — thanked the lawmakers for introducing HR 4678, the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act. The bill authorizes the Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a 5-year evidence-based oral health literacy campaign across the agency’s relevant programs.

“As dentists, we believe oral health literacy is the foundation of a lifetime of wellness,” the coalition wrote. “Most oral health ailments can be avoided by increasing oral health literacy among all populations, with an emphasis on children to ensure they develop and maintain healthy habits into adulthood. Additionally, oral health literacy must be a cornerstone of improving the utilization of care by underserved populations.”

The dental groups pointed out that the Health Resources and Services Administration has demonstrated a commitment to improving oral health among vulnerable populations and said the coalition believes the agency’s efforts will be bolstered through greater integration of effective oral health literacy strategies.

“The work this legislation directs HRSA to undertake will provide insights into the outcomes and effectiveness of targeted oral health literacy strategies and will help inform future initiatives to improve the oral health literacy for all Americans,” they wrote.

The dental groups expressed concern with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data showing that the number of people who visited a dentist in the past year has decreased from 44.5% in 2007 to 43.3% in 2016, noting “an apparent lack of progress” towards the HHS Healthy People 2020 initiative target of 49%.

“These findings demonstrate the timeliness of HR 4678 and the need for the federal government to meaningfully approach oral health literacy in a way that produces results for the Americans,” the letter concluded. “Oral health literacy is a vital component in the fight against oral disease, which left untreated can result in pain, disfigurement, loss of school and work days, nutrition problems, expensive emergency room use for preventable dental conditions and even death.”

Follow all of the ADA’s advocacy efforts at ADA.org/advocacy.