The Pew Center on the States today urged congressional leaders to fund dental care measures in the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee held its first hearings on the Department of Health and Human Services budget, which would fund the grants to states for school-based dental sealant programs, demonstration projects with new dental providers and to ensure every state has help with prevention programs.
“With federal funding to back these measures and smart state efforts to implement them, millions of children would gain better access to proper dental care,” said Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. “These proven policies can help eliminate the pain, missed school hours and long-term health and economic consequences of untreated dental disease.”
Dental sealants—clear plastic coatings applied by a hygienist or dentist—cost one-third as much as filling a cavity and have been shown to prevent 60 percent of decay in molars. School-based programs are an effective strategy to offer sealants to disadvantaged children, but a recent Pew analysis found that only 17 states reach 25 percent or more of targeted high-risk schools.
Developing new dental providers is a growing state priority. By funding the demonstration grants authorized by the new health reform law, Congress will enable states to test new workforce models to expand access. This is critical because 17 million low-income, Medicaid-eligible children go without a dental visit each year, largely due to a lack of dentists who will treat them. Research from other industrialized nations and Alaska has shown that underserved children can be reached with quality care delivered by dental health aide therapists or other types of new providers. Pew is conducting research on the economic benefits of new providers and working to help states develop these models.
“The new health care reform law expands insurance coverage and that's what makes these grants to states so critical,” Gehshan continued. “More dental coverage will encourage more demand, so federal support for innovative workforce models will help spur states to improve access and efficiency.”
In written testimony to House and Senate appropriations health sub-committees, Pew recommended significant investments for fiscal year 2011, including transfer of a portion of the newly created Prevention and Public Health Fund to expand these proven oral health programs to all 50 states.
The Pew Children's Dental Campaign works to promote policies that will help millions of children maintain healthy teeth, get the care they need and come to school ready to learn. For more information, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org/dental