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 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. One example of this is through a program called Missions of Mercy (MOM) or Dental Access Days (DAD) which is active in 28 states throughout the country. A great illustration of the work took place in South Carolina last year. Hundreds of volunteer dentists gathered at the Florence Civic Center in Florence, SC to provide over $1 million in free care to over 1500 patients. 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 who have agreed to see the patient. 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.