Action to Fruition

by Will Cavell, c/o 2020

Do you love volunteering your time and services to the less-fortunate in the name of dentistry? Have you previously partaken in helping out thousands of Louisiana residents at the annual LaMoM and Give Kids a Smile programs? Well there is good news for you!

Bill for “Action for Dental Health Act” was introduced into the House in 2017 as a means of breaking down barriers to provide access to oral healthcare in underserved populations. The bill H.R. 2422 had dual-party sponsorship when representatives Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) first presented this bill to their comrades. Action for Dental Health Act garnered the support it needed and in February 2018, H.R. 2422 passed overwhelmingly in the House with a vote of 387-13. Thus, it would head on over to the Senate to decide whether or not this bill would end up on the president’s desk.

In a serendipitous fashion, hundreds of dentists and dental students would soon descend upon Washington D.C. to have a day on the Hill for lobbying on behalf of our profession. The self-dubbed “Tooth Party” had H.R. 2422 at the forefront of issues that we discussed in our meetings with our Representatives and especially our Senators. Conversations were had, and an impact was made. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced the Action for Dental Health Act 2018 (S. 3016) in June 2018, where it was directed to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee for markings. HELP unanimously passed the bill in committee on July 25, clearing the path for a vote in the full Senate. A date for this vote is still to be determined.

What Does it Do?

The American Dental Association (ADA) started the Action for Dental Health platform five years ago and listed eight initiatives for their cause, which can be found here. The initiatives were soon reflected in the bill that we see today. The program aims to “to provide care now to people who suffer from untreated dental disease, to strengthen and expand the public/private safety net, and to bring disease prevention and education into communities.” Specifically, Action for Dental Health Act takes aim at the following features:

  • improving oral health education and dental disease prevention

  • reducing the use of emergency rooms for dental care

  • helping patients establish dental homes

  • reducing barriers, including language barriers and cultural barriers, to receiving care

  • facilitating dental care to nursing home residents

You may wonder how our country will fund such a bill; however, the Action for Dental Health Act will be of no additional burden to taxpayers. The funds are already there. Existing resources would bypass lengthy red tape stipulations that prevent millions of Americans from achieving good oral health. Essentially, “it would reauthorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with the Health Resources and Services Administration to issue grants and funds totaling $32 million each year for the next five years… The act creates guidelines for who would be eligible to receive funds. They include academic institutions, local dental societies, state dental associations, as well as state and local health and/or dental departments.” This means programs like Mission of Mercy and Give Kids a Smile would have more funding. More funding equals more dental treatment for people in need.

Speaking on the topic, Sen. Cassidy states “As a physician, I know that dental care is crucial to overall health. Untreated dental disease leads to millions of dollars in preventable dental-related ER visits each year. Action for Dental Health expands the reach of existing community based programs which screen, treat and educate underserved populations connecting patients to dentists who can continue to treat them down the road."