10:37 AM

Bringing Oral Health Awareness to Capitol Hill

Many people think the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Health Reform Bill) is only about reforming insurance to expand access to health coverage.

But that’s only half the story. The bill also contains many important provisions that will improve care coordination and access to critical preventive services, though they’ve gone largely unnoticed. The Kaiser Family Foundation gives a concise summary of some of the funded initiatives. Congress included another 52 unfunded programs whose futures are still under debate.

One such unfunded program is the Oral Health Public Education Campaign, championed by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the importance of oral health—particularly for young children from underserved populations.

Over the past few months, I have been working with Senator Bingaman’s office to help ensure this program is funded because, after all—what good are oral health services if no one knows about them?

Only one-third (33 percent) of mothers thought oral health was important for their infants, according to a survey by the American Dental Association (ADA). Additional survey findings reported by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry found that just 14 percent of parents realized that tooth decay in children can ultimately lead to the need for a root canal – even in infants.

With an estimated 1 out of 10 children reporting mouth pain from untreated dental decay, we have to do more to raise awareness.

The good news is that oral health literacy campaigns can help. The ADA reported that 78 percent of parents would take their children to visit a pediatric dentist before their first birthday, if only they knew oral health care early in life would lead to improved oral health as their children developed.

Getting that early care is critical for a child’s overall development, since we know children who have untreated dental disease face greater challenges learning, impaired nutrition, and even death.

I’ve been bringing this message to key members of Congress and will continue doing so until we, as a country, recognize the importance of oral health.

Guest Post by Fay Donohue, CEO, DentaQuest