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Dental Leaders Testify Before Senate HELP Committee on Dental Care Crisis

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Dental thought leaders have convened before Washington to attest for the need to expand dental care and make it more accessible across the U.S.

Dental Leaders Testify Before Senate HELP Committee on Dental Care Crisis. Image credit: © doganmesut - stock.adobe.com

Dental Leaders Testify Before Senate HELP Committee on Dental Care Crisis. Image credit: © doganmesut - stock.adobe.com

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont.) and Ranking Member Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-Louisiana), convened to address the dental care crisis in America, focusing on affordability and accessibility. Gordon R. Isbell III, DMD, MAGD, a member of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) and a seasoned general dentist from Gadsden, Alabama, testified before HELP with a testimony focused on the significant issues surrounding the delivery and access to oral health care in the United States. His appearance before the committee precedes the AGD's annual Hill Day, during which members from across the country will converge on Capitol Hill to advocate for dental health issues.

In his address to the committee, Dr Isbell emphasized the critical link between dental care and overall health, pointing out the existing inequities in access to dental services. "Research continues to highlight the importance of dental care to overall well-being, but also shows the inequities in access to dental care," he stated. He urged the committee to protect the private practice of dentistry while finding solutions to improve access. "We must ensure that the private practice of dentistry is protected and that in our efforts to find solutions to common problems, we do not diminish the care we provide, make it harder to enter into and survive in private dental practice, or dilute the level of services that only fully trained and licensed dentists can and should provide," he added.

Dr Isbell highlighted 4 priority areas the AGD is urging Congress to address: supporting an increased workforce in dentistry (Action on Dental Health Act); promoting equitable relationships between dentists and insurers (Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act); including AGD as an approved provider of opioid training (Medication Access and Training Expansion (MATE) Act); and promoting oral health literacy (Oral Health Literacy Act).

The significance of these priorities is underscored by the alarming statistics shared by Dr Isbell. Oral health-related illnesses lead to 6.1 million days of bed disability, 12.7 million days of restricted activity, and 20.5 million lost workdays annually in the United States, per numbers cited by Dr Isbell.

Additionally, Dr Myechia Minter-Jordan, President and CEO of CareQuest Institute for Oral Health®, also testified, highlighting the stark reality that nearly 70 million adults and nearly 8 million children in the U.S. lack dental insurance. This coverage gap exacerbates the oral health crisis, leading many to forgo essential dental care. “It’s up to all of us to create a more accessible, equitable, and integrated health care system that includes oral health.” Dr Minter-Jordan said during the hearing.

Senator Sanders emphasized the urgency of the crisis, noting the high cost of dental care, the shortage of dental professionals, and the lack of access in rural areas. He pointed out that only a small percentage of dentists accept Medicaid, leaving the most vulnerable without necessary dental care. Sanders stated, "In America today we have a dental crisis that we have got to address...One out of five seniors in our country are missing all of their natural teeth. Over 40% of children in America have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. And about half of Americans with dental insurance skip getting the dental care they need because they cannot afford it. That is unacceptable and has got to change."

The hearing underscored the interconnectedness of oral health with overall health, noting correlations between oral health and conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The hearing also spotlighted the disproportionate impact of the dental care crisis on low-income individuals, older adults, people with disabilities, rural communities, and racial and ethnic minorities.

As the AGD prepares for its Hill Day, the testimonies of Dr Isbell and other health leaders like Dr Minter-Jordan emphasize the pressing need for legislative action to improve dental care access and affordability, thereby enhancing the overall health and well-being of Americans.

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