Despite living in a country with the best oral care in the world, one in three Americans – more than 100 million people nationwide – can't afford to see a dentist. According to PBS Frontline and the Center for Public Integrity, high costs deter people from getting regular checkups and cleanings, and many low-income people have a harder time accessing a dental provider than other groups of Americans. While tooth decay is mostly preventable, untreated oral diseases can lead to infection, tooth loss, and in severe cases, even death.
Earlier this month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to expand dental care coverage for people under Medicare, Medicaid and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings introduced a twin bill in the House. Together, the proposed legislation would increase funding for community health centers, mobile clinics and dental care in schools, allow people to pay for dental care on a sliding scale, and pilot programs for oral health care specialists in “dental deserts” – areas with the least access to dentists. As lawmakers in this country, please help pass these twin bills. While the oral health of countless Americans hangs in the balance, we can’t afford to let this comprehensive legislation die in committee!
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Last year, Kyle Willis – an unemployed and uninsured 24-year-old father from Cincinnati – couldn’t afford the antibiotics he needed for a tooth extraction. Several months later the infection...
Last year, Kyle Willis – an unemployed and uninsured 24-year-old father from Cincinnati – couldn’t afford the antibiotics he needed for a tooth extraction. Several months later the infection spread, his brain swelled and he eventually died.
Kyle’s tragic death serves as a bitter warning that poor dental health can be fatal. However, according to a PBS Frontline special series for a third of Americans, the price of dental care is just too high. As a result, over 100 million people nationwide suffer from tooth decay.
Though a sometimes overlooked aspect of our overall health and wellness, poor dental health can increase an individual’s risk for serious medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and birth defects in children. Medicaid requires dental coverage for children, as well as some procedures for adults, yet the rate of coverage is left to states who often choose to scale back on dental services when looking to make slash their budgets. As a result of those cuts the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 49 million Americans live in areas with a serious shortage of dental professionals.
These so-called “dental deserts” lead to a deep disparity in dental care as residents (mostly low-income people and minorities) are more likely to suffer from tooth decay and subsequently develop severe health problems. Do you live in a dental desert? Check out the state-by-state map showing the percentage of people without access to dental care here.
This month Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Maryland Representative Elijah E. Cummings introduced legislation in the Senate and House to expand comprehensive dental coverage to millions of Americans through Medicare, Medicaid, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. If passed, the bill will authorize funding increases to dental services offered through community health centers, mobile clinics and dental clinics in schools. The legislation would also address the growing shortage of dentists by expanding National Health Services Corps scholarship programs and creating new pilot programs to help close vast gaps in patient care - especially in “dental deserts.”
Let’s pressure lawmakers to pass this important measure passed to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable dental care and the opportunity to enjoy a long, healthy life!