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Maryland hosts first Oral Health Summit Oct. 20-21

Baltimore—After his death in 2007, Deamonte Driver became a tragic symbol of the access to care issue, no more so than in his home state of Maryland.

IMAGE: This man was one of many treated at a Mission of Mercy event held Oct. 28-29.
Happy for treatment: This man was one of many treated at a Mission of Mercy event held Oct. 28-29. The free screenings assist in the state’s mission to provide greater access to care for those in need.

The 12-year-old died after a tooth infection spread to his brain, prompting a national discussion about the treatment of dental disease and access to care. It’s been four years, and officials in Maryland’s dental, public health and political communities have worked hard to change the atmosphere and provide more access for those in need.

The state’s first Oral Health Summit convened Oct. 20-21 to celebrate the successes that have occurred since Deamonte’s death, recognize Maryland oral health advocates and develop a policy agenda for the implementation of the first Maryland Oral Health Plan: 2011-2015.

“I think it brought together a wide variety of stakeholders to learn and plan and address what needs to happen to continue to maximize oral health for all of Maryland’s citizens,” said Penny Anderson, executive director of the Maryland Dental Action Coalition.

MDAC is a nonprofit organization spawned from a state committee started after Deamonte’s death. Its goal is to develop and maintain a statewide partnership of individuals to improve oral health, prevention, advocacy and access to care, Ms. Anderson said.

The summit brought together about 150 officials from MDAC, the Santa Fe Group, a think tank looking at dental issues, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md, Frances B. Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Maria Brand, deputy administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The main point is just celebrating how far Maryland has come since 2007,” said Dr. Diane Romaine, president of the Maryland State Dental Association. “If you look at the years since the Deamonte Driver tragedy occurred, we have made steady progress by increasing our Medicaid participation of dentists and patients.”

IMAGE: A patient receives treatment at a Mission of Mercy event
Thumbs up to good oral health: A patient receives treatment at a Mission of Mercy event held in Maryland Oct. 28-29. Many of the volunteers also attended the state’s first Oral Health Summit the weekend before, dedicated to celebrating successes in oral health and developing a policy agenda for an oral health plan.

Specifically, since 2006, Maryland increased access to care by 28 percent and increased the number of dental providers participating in the state Medicaid program by 44 percent, according to MDAC.

Much of that increase can be attributed to MDAC’s work lobbying the state legislature to increase reimbursement rates for dentists who see children on Medicaid, Ms. Anderson said. It was the first in a planned series of three increases in reimbursement rates, but it’s been more difficult to get the subsequent increases passed because of the economy, she said.

The oral health plan focuses on access, oral disease and injury prevention, and oral health literacy and education, Dr. Romaine said. The state and the MSDA are also gearing up a public awareness campaign targeting children’s oral health, she said.

The MSDA wants to educate the public on oral health because it’s more than just an access issue.

“You have to choose to access,” Dr. Romaine said. “You have to choose to engage and participate in the oral health of your family.”

The MSDA has a number of other projects in the works to advance the state mission. Dr. Romaine has organized two Mission of Mercy events in Maryland, one of which was held Oct. 28-29 with the help of volunteers who attended the Oral Health Summit the week prior. The MSDA also received a $142,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to purchase portable dental equipment to use around the state in adult dental projects, she said.

IMAGE: Maryland Mission of Mercy
MOM volunteers: Many who attended Maryland’s first Oral Health Summit volunteered at a Mission of Mercy event held the following weekend.