ADA, ADEA, AAPD, AADR urge Congress to support oral health programs

The ADA, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Education Association and American Association for Dental Research are asking leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to fund oral health programs at the highest amount possible in the 2021 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

In a joint Dec. 3 letter, the four organizations urged the legislators to increase funding in 2021 for initiatives important to dentistry and the nation's oral health.

“Greater investments in access to quality dental care, dental training, oral health education, disease prevention and dental research lead to improved oral health outcomes,” they wrote. “The modest programmatic increases we are requesting, together with the continuation of programs, will help reach the goal of ensuring optimal oral health for all Americans.”

One of the groups' top requests is to maintain the Senate's appropriations level of $493 million for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

“Investments in NIDCR-funded research during the past half-century have led to improvements in oral health for millions of Americans and continue to show promise in areas encompassing pain biology and management, regenerative medicine, and in assessing the efficacy of a human papilloma virus vaccine for oral and pharyngeal cancers,” they wrote. “The scientific research workforce continues to face a myriad of challenges due to the current public health crisis and while research institutions are understandably concentrating on coronavirus-related research, most other research has been scaled back or stopped entirely due to pandemic-induced closures of university campuses and laboratories.

“Increased funding is critical to sustaining the nation’s research workforce and capabilities.”

The four organizations also asked Congress to increase funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Oral Health, which is currently enacted at $19.5 million, same as 2020. They noted that the agency’s investments in state health agencies, community water fluoridation, school-based dental sealant programs and oral health literacy have helped to “significantly reduce” oral disease in children and adults. Additional funding would allow CDC to expand the Oral Health Division’s capacity and outreach.

“Currently 20 states, including Alabama and New Mexico, which have some of the highest poverty rates, have never received funding from the Division of Oral Health,” they said. “Additional funding would provide these states with the capacity and infrastructure needed to translate health promotion and disease prevention approaches into effective policies and health care practices.”

The ADA, ADEA, AAPD and AADR also praised the division’s “outstanding contributions” in the CDC’s response to COVID-19, noting how the division has guided the dental community through the uncertainty of the nation’s public health emergency.

The groups also urged Congress to continue supporting the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Title VII general and pediatric dental residency programs.

“[These programs] provide primary oral health care services in some of the nation’s most remote and underserved locations,” and Title VII dental residency programs “are the only federal programs focused on improving the supply, distribution and diversity of the dental workforce,” the ADA, ADEA, AAPD and AADR wrote.

The four organizations also expressed concern over the Senate’s proposal to eliminate funding for HRSA’s Health Careers Opportunity Program, noting the program’s pipeline is “instrumental to the development of a culturally competent workforce equipped to meet the needs of a growing diverse population” and urged lawmakers to extend funding for this vital program.

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