Access to quality medical care is important in the world today. As a result, the World Health Organization has run numerous campaigns to increase the awareness towards the importance of accessing quality medical care all around the world. Oral health is critical to any individual irrespective of his/her culture and background. Despite its importance in the overall health of an individual, not all Americans have access to quality dental care. According to the Oral Health America (OHA), most individuals between the ages of 50 and 64 in the United States find it expensive to meet their dental care costs due to the mere fact that this service is not covered by their Medicaid insurance policy (OHA, 2015). After a critical analysis of the Medicaid plan, it is evident that it does not cover routine dental checkups such as cleaning, fillings, extractions and so on. This in turn leaves these individuals vulnerable and unable to enjoy quality dental care that they should.
Other than this age group, there are other groups of people across the United States who do not enjoy quality dental care and as a result, they suffer from various oral conditions. It is in response to this that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) re-introduced the Comprehensive Reform Dental Act on February 25 2015 (ADA, 2015). According to Govtrack (2015), the aim of this bill is to enhance the quality of health care for individuals who come from vulnerable populations. This paper will therefore expound on the status of oral health care in the United States and critically analyze the Comprehensive Reform Dental Act of 2015.
Oral Health Care in the USA
Since the second half of the 20th century, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) has conducted in-depth studies have made it possible to have a deeper understanding of common dental diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal diseases (NIDCR, n.d.). As a result, most middle-aged and younger Americans stand a high chance of maintaining their natural teeth well into advanced age. However, it is critical to point out that not all Americans enjoy the same level of oral health care. Vulnerable and underserved people such as poor children, the elderly, disabled persons, and persons from racial and cultural minority backgrounds suffer from the silent dental epidemic as a result of oral health complications that lead to the cases of recurring pain and suffering as well as complications that affect their overall health status. And this in turn negatively affects their financial and social status as well (NIDCR, n.d.). The effects of oral health disorders diminish the performance of individuals at school, work, and at home. This in turn has devastating effects in the life of the affected individuals by diminishing their quality of life.
Oral health disorders affect individuals across all populations. Children, for instance, suffer from a number of oral health disorders. Cleft lip, a common oral health disorder, affects approximately 1 out of 600 and 1out of 1850 live births for White Americans and African Americans respectively (NIDCR, n.d.). Dental caries occur five times more frequently as compared to respiratory diseases in children (NIDCR, n.d.). In young adults, severe periodontal disease is usually prevalent in about 14% of individuals between the ages of 45 and 54 (NIDCR, n.d.). Viral infections such as Herpes libialis affect approximately 19% of the population between the ages of 24 and 44. These and other oral health complications result in the loss of approximately 164 million hours of work annually in young adults (NIDCR, n.d.). In older adults, about 23% of individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from severe periodontal disease and about 30% of individuals above the age of 65 suffer from edentulous (this figure can be higher for individuals living in poverty) (NIDCR, n.d.).
The report by NIDCR (n.d.) greatly expounded on the disparities and inequalities that affect oral health care in the United States. It has highlighted factors such as lack of access to oral health care either as a result of lack of income or health insurance cover and strict working conditions that deny individuals the opportunity to access health care services. In accordance with this report, individuals with disabilities and the individuals who suffer from complex health problems could experience further challenges.
Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2015
This bill was passed to meet the contemporary oral health needs of Americans. From the discussions presented in this paper, it is evident that good teeth are not the only indicator of healthy oral care. Working in conjunction with the American Dentist Association (ADA), this bill has put a lot of emphasis on creating an adult dental benefit at the federal level under the Medicaid plan (ADA, 2015). Additionally, this bill also proposes that adult dental care should be a mandated benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Finally, this report will also support programs that aim at enhancing the delivery, education, and research of oral health. To realize its overall aim, this Act has the following goals:
- To increase funding for more community-based care
- To increase the number and diversity of professionals in the field of oral health care
- To educate dental and non-dental practitioners to meet the oral health needs of vulnerable and underserved populations in an effective and efficient manner
- To spear head and fund research on the prevention and management of dental diseases.
A 2015 report by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) stated that Dr. Frank Catalanotto, a member of the Senate’s Primary Health and Aging subcommittee, is in support of this bill. He has outlined several challenges such as lack of preventive and restorative dental services for children under the Medicaid plan (ADEA, 2015). He has also cited factors, such as low payment rates and high cost of education as the key reasons why many oral health practitioners are not involved in the Medicaid plan. As such, he believes that the implementation of this Act will greatly improve the overall oral health status of the citizens of the United States of America. However, the ADA is against the proposed move of introducing routine dental services under the Medicaid plan (ADA, 2015). Instead, ADA would wish the funds that are to be used to support this proposal to be directed towards improving the provisions of dental benefits under this plan.
Given the oral health crisis that the United States is currently facing, I believe the enactment of this bill will result in the improvement of oral health care delivery. Its implementation will be critical, especially in the improvement of the overall wellbeing and health status of the American population. The efforts should be put in place to ensure the prevention, management, cure, education, and research on oral health problems especially with emphasis on vulnerable and underserved population. In my view, therefore, I do not see any unintended consequences as a result of the enactment of this bill into law.
American Dental Association (2015). Good and Bad in the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act. Web.
American Dental Education Association (2015). Comprehensive Dental Reform Act Reintroduced to the Senate. Web.
Govtrack (2015). S. 570: Comprehensive Dental Reform Act of 2015. Web.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (n.d.) Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (Executive Summary). Web.
Oral Health America (2015). Oral Health America 2015 Public Poll: Executive Summary. Web.