Dental Health Advocates Want To Sink Teeth Into Health Care Reform

The Washington Post reports many oral health professionals worry that dental issues have "a tenuous place at best in the national debate" regarding an overhaul of the health care system. Still, they emphasize that dental health is an integral part of health care and note the special burden untreated dental issues have on poor children. The paper also notes that "closing the gap between the worlds of dental care and medical care, with their separate histories and cultures, and their separate finance and delivery systems would be a formidable task."

The paper reports on the inclusion of several dental provisions in the 615-page first draft of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee's health care reform bill. "The draft includes dental care in a list of benefits that children should receive and cites the importance of disease prevention and surveillance, safety net programs, and changes in the dental workforce and public-health infrastructure. Advocates aren't focusing solely on the Senate bill, as there are other, competing bills still to come. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who has emerged as a leading congressional proponent of oral health, is working to keep the issue visible as the House of Representatives crafts its own version."

The Washington Post also highlights the 2007 death of a 12-year-old named Deamonte Driver who died from an untreated dental abscess that allowed an infection to spread to his brain. Driver’s case was influential: "The death spurred congressional hearings and gave lawmakers and the public new insights into failings within the Medicaid system charged with providing dental care to millions of poor children. The revelations led to reforms of the system in Maryland.... [and] lead to a successful fight for the inclusion of a dental entitlement for the children of the working poor under the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP. The bill, vetoed twice by then-President George W. Bush, was signed into law this year by President Obama" (Otto, 6/23).

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