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American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

Government Affairs News & Materials

Access to Dental Health Care Becomes Hot Issue in Congress

July 2nd, 2007

The Feb. 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a 12 year old Maryland boy, from an infected tooth, led to the introduction of several federal bills designed to improve access to dental care.

"The Essential Oral Health Care Act of 2007" (H.R. 2472), introduced by Congressman Albert Wynn (D-Md.), seeks to increase dental care access by piloting a Community Dental Health Coordinator to serve as a new mid-level allied dental health professional and work in underserved communities with no or limited access to oral health care; award grants for the purchase of portable or mobile dental equipment or help pay for the operational costs of free dental services to underserved populations; offer a tax credit for the donation of certain dental services to low-income individuals; and increase federal assistance to states through the Medicaid and SCHIP programs to ensure program recipients receive access to the same level of oral health services as other pediatric populations in the states.

"Deamonte's Law" (HR 2371), introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), would provide grants to federally qualified health centers to expand and improve the provision of pediatric dental services to medically underserved populations by: recruiting dentists, pediatric dentists, or dentists with pediatric training to provide pediatric dental services to populations served by the center; purchasing or renting equipment for the provision of dental services; constructing and expanding physical space for the provision of dental services; or allowing contractual relationships between federally qualified health centers and private dental providers to increase access to dental care for adults and children. HR 2371 would also award grants to schools of dentistry and hospitals with accredited training programs in pediatric dentistry to increase the number of individuals who pursue academic programs in pediatric dentistry.

The "Children's Dental Health Improvement Act of 2007" (H.R. 1781/S. 739), introduced by Congressmen John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), seeks to provide disadvantaged children with access to dental services through grants to states to improve dental services for children enrolled in Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); including dental services as a basic service under SCHIP (not included in Senate bill) and allowing states to provide wrap-around coverage under SCHIP for dental services to privately-insured children (not included in Senate bill). It also seeks to improve the supply of dentists by revising Graduate Medical Education (GME) payments for dental residency programs, establishing a grant program to expand the availability of primary dental care services in dental health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas and authorizing retention bonuses for eligible dental officers of the Indian Health Service. It allows for increased involvement by other agencies such as the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Indian Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control, to improve dental service access amongst underserved populations. It would, among other things, create Chief Dental Officers within Medicaid and SCHIP, HRSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).