More than 47 million people in the U.S. live in areas with limited access to dental care. S. 3016 seeks to improve oral health by breaking down barriers to care.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Booker, Cassidy, Hirono and Scott, will allow organizations to qualify for oral health grants to support activities that improve oral health education and dental disease prevention and develop and expand outreach programs that facilitate establishing dental homes for children and adults, including the elderly, blind and disabled.
The legislation would also increase opportunities for eligible entities to partner with dental schools and the community to provide dental services to the underserved. Programs like Give Kids A Smile and Missions of Mercy provide important platforms for dentists to deliver care directly to those in need. Each year, approximately 450,000 children benefit from 1,500 Give Kids A Smile events nationwide. Missions of Mercy events across America have served more than 100,000 patients, providing nearly $50 million in free services since 2000. These programs, along with the free and discounted care that individual dentists provide every day, add up to an estimated $2.6 billion per year. S. 3016 would allow programs like this to apply for grants funds that have been appropriated and bring the money to the local level without having the state front the cost. S.3016 supports proven, cost-effective measures. Emergency department (ED) visits for dental problems cost the system nearly $3 billion between 2008 and2010, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (April 2014, Vol. 145:4, pp. 331-337). The study noted that dental ED care costs more than regular care provided by oral health professionals. Also, most ED visits only provide patients with pain medication but do not treat the underlying problem.
There are many states leading with effective models for the ER referral program. When a patient shows up at the emergency room with a dental problem, they are given a list of dentists or connected with a dental case manager who can connect the patient with a dentist who will treat them. An appointment is made for the patient and when the dentist sees and treats the patient, the hospital reimburses the dentist. The Action for Dental Health Act will help more hospitals and local dentist set up referral programs such as this. These programs also decrease opioid prescribing by hospitals for tooth pain as more patients receive dental care which decreases their disease severity.