New Oral Health Legislation Introduced

***UPDATED: September 26, 2017*** Last week, the president of the American Dental Association (ADA), Gary L. Roberts, sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to support the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017. According to a recent ADA News article, he specifically highlighted the importance of the somewhat controversial topic of community water fluoridation.

In his letter, Dr. Roberts wrote, “The ADA urges you not to let fluoridation skeptics jeopardize the progress the country has made in preventing tooth decay, especially among children. Before fluoridation, the typical schoolchild developed three to four new cavities each year. In some communities, people considered the loss of all of one’s teeth before old age as normal. Today, many people simply do not have that type of decay burden – thanks in large part to the role fluoridation plays in preventing decay.”

The Action for Dental Health Act of 2017, or H.R. 2422, was first introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and it calls for Congress to authorize an increase of oral health promotion and disease programs. The letter comes on the heels of a report out of Mexico that fluoridation has been linked to a lower IQ score in some children. The ADA has released an official statement disputing the research, while Dr. Roberts continues to point out the effectiveness of the practice.

“Please show your support for fluoridation as the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay, particularly in underserved communities, by ignoring the skeptics and supporting initiatives like those that would receive support from H.R. 2422,” Roberts wrote.

***UPDATED: July 28, 2017*** The Action for Dental Health bill, H.R. 2422, calls for Congress to authorize additional oral health promotion and disease prevention programs, and according to a recent ADA News article,  it’s one step closer to coming to fruition.

“The ADA is pleased to see Congress prioritizing dental and public health,” said ADA President Gary L. Roberts. “The Action for Dental Health bill will improve oral health in vulnerable populations by enabling organizations to qualify for grants to support activities that improve oral health education and disease prevention. It will also develop and expand outreach programs that facilitate establishing dental homes for children and adults, including the elderly, blind and disabled.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee just unanimously passed the bill, which will next go before the full House of Representatives.

***UPDATED: May 19, 2017*** Once again, representatives from the American Dental Association (ADA) were back in Washington to support the Action for Dental Health Act. The latest bill, H.R. 2422, was introduced by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and calls for Congress to authorize additional oral health promotion and disease prevention programs, according to a recent ADA news article. There to testify was Dr. Cheryl D. Watson-Lowry, a general dentist in Chicago. She spoke on two key initiatives: emergency room referral programs and the ADA’s Community Dental Health Coordinator program.

“This 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,” Dr. Watson-Lowry stated.

The bill drew bipartisan interest from members of the House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

“There are very serious gaps in dental care in America,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., who praised the Florida Dental Association and Missions of Mercy for the work they continue to do.

Still some were skeptical if such an initiative is necessary. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga, asked: If federal agencies such as the CDC support dental health with funding and community water fluoridation, why is Action for Dental Health legislation necessary?

Once again, oral health is taking on Washington. Earlier this week, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and dentist Rep. Mike Simpson R-Id, introduced legislation to authorize oral health grants “to improve essential oral health care for lower income individuals by breaking down barriers to care.” According to a recent American Dental Association (ADA) article, the Action for Dental Health Act of 2015, H.R. 539, would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grants to support volunteer dental projects and initiatives to work towards several goals. The goals include:

  • Improving oral health education and prevention of dental disease, including the use of dental sealants and fluoride treatments, community-wide prevention programs, and increasing oral health literacy.
  • Helping to make dental services more accessible and efficient by developing and expanding outreach programs and establishing dental homes for children and adults, including the disabled and aged populations.
  • Reducing geographic, cultural, language, and similar barriers in the provision of dental services.
  • To reduce the number of visits to emergency departments for oral related issues and instead, promoting the use of dental primary care settings.
  • To facilitate the improvement of dental care to nursing home residents who are currently underserved.

The bill would also allow the CDC to utilize grants with eligible entities to provide mobile or portable dental equipment and pay for appropriate operational costs, allowing for free dental services to underserved populations. Entities eligible for such programs could include a state or local dental association, state oral health programs, and community-based organizations that partner with a tax exempt academic institution offering free dental service programs for underserved populations. There is a growing demand for oral health access as more and more Americans find themselves losing the battle with oral disease. This type of legislation could allow dental professionals to take great strides in improving the oral health of millions who truly need it.

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