by Sterling K. Speirn, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation:
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation commends Congress for its recognition of the urgent need to comprehensively and substantially strengthen oral health care for our most vulnerable children.
Most recently, the Senate version of health reform represents a high water mark for oral health legislation, with more than two dozen important provisions aimed at improving oral health care, which include:
Expanding insurance coverage for pediatric oral health services and eligibility for preventive oral health services without co-payments.
Launching new dental disease prevention initiatives including public education, school- based sealant programs in all 50 states, and research grants for dental caries management.
Addressing critical dental care workforce issues and the cultural competence and diversity of the provider teams through expanded training programs and education resources for general, pediatric and public health dentists and for the exploration of new solutions for dental professionals to reach rural and underserved areas.
Access issues are particularly severe in many rural and urban communities, and particularly impact children and families of color. The rate of untreated decay in American Indian and Alaska Native children is more than 3 times higher than that of all children in the United States. It is known that those who lack affordable health insurance are at increased risk for unmet dental needs, and together with children from poor and/or minority families, these two categories amount to 52 percent of children in this country.
Untreated dental disease many times leads to serious, life-threatening medical situations. For too long, oral health has long been separated from the rest of the body in most health policy conversations, even though oral health is essential to overall health.
We are pleased that Congress is bringing oral health into the conversation to improve our nation's overall health. These issues have historically received broad bi-partisan support, and we look forward to continued progress.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation supports children, families, and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society. Improving oral health for children and families is an important component of our work to improve overall health, eliminate racial disparities in health, and provide needed health care to those who are underserved.