Maui Business

Bill Aims to Increase Access to Oral Health Care for Underserved

June 25, 2018, 9:27 AM HST
* Updated June 26, 10:47 AM
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Dental Exam on Lānaʻi. File photo courtesy, County of Maui/Ryan Piros.

US Senator Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaiʻi joined fellow Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey in introducing the Action for Dental Health Act of 2018.

The bill would reauthorize initiatives that increase access to oral health treatment and prevention services, particularly for underserved communities.

Sen. Hirono said that if passed, the bill would increase resources for communities across Hawaiʻi to establish regular dental care and increase the number of dental providers. “Children and families in Hawaiʻi continue to face barriers in accessing necessary dental care – particularly in rural and underserved communities,” said Sen. Hirono.

Children in Hawaiʻi have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation and many Hawaiʻi residents seek care at hospital emergency departments for untreated and preventable dental conditions, according to information provided by Sen. Hirono.  A 2015 report by the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health showed significant oral health disparities in Hawaiʻi’s residents relating to income, education, ethnicity, and geographic location.

“Oral health is an important part of one’s overall health and well-being, but many people lack access to these essential services — especially those from underserved communities,” Sen. Booker said. “This legislation takes a vital step in addressing those gaps and increasing families’ access to oral health care and preventive services.”

“Oral health is an essential component of overall health and it’s critically important for all people in Hawaiʻi to have access to oral health services,” said Dr. Robert Baysa, President of the Hawaiʻi Dental Association. “Leaders like Senator Hirono are helping to promote oral health in a way that will benefit Hawaiʻi’s children and adults.”

Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also cosponsored the Action for Dental Health Act.

According to Sen. Hirono, this legislation would address the disparities in the following ways:

  • Reauthorizing oral health promotion and disease prevention activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as school-based dental sealant programs and support for recruiting dental providers.
  • Establishing an Action for Dental Health Program to improve oral health education and reduce barriers to oral health care.
  • Reauthorizing and expanding a grant program through the Health Resources and Services Administration that helps states increase their oral health workforce and provide needed dental care, particularly in underserved communities.

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