The Washington State Dental Association recently released paper, Strengthening the Dental Safety Net, calls for a multi-faceted approach to improving oral health in Washington that includes: education, prevention efforts, financing, and innovative delivery models. There are several barriers which prevent people from obtaining dental care, even when it is available. Fear, cultural differences, lack of oral health knowledge, language barriers, low public financing, and high out of pocket costs are the most significant barriers that keep many from having a healthy mouth. Recognizing there is no one solution, WSDA presents several Washington Solutions for Dental Access that address the complex and varied barriers to care.
According to nationwide benchmarks, Washington is a recognized leader in improving oral health for all its citizens. Washington has the second lowest level of untreated cavities in the nation for head start preschoolers and third graders. More kids have dental sealants and more adults have visited a dentist in the last year than the national average. Kids covered by Medicaid are also more likely to see a dentist in Washington than the national average. Washington is 8th in nation when it comes to kids covered by Medicaid seeing a dentist for care.
Almost 100% of dental disease is preventable. Focusing solely on treating dental decay will not improve oral health outcomes. “The challenge,” as explained by WSDA President Dr. Rod Wentworth, “is to ensure that all Washingtonians are educated about the impact of dental disease, they understand how to take care of their families’ teeth and gums, and they seek regular preventive care. WSDA’s dentists are working to make that happen.”
Unfortunately recent cuts and elimination of non-emergent dental benefits for most Medicaid eligible adults in Washington will have negative health impacts and result in higher costs down the road. The report details solutions such as restoring Medicaid funding for adults, supporting oral health education, and ensuring retired dentists can volunteer their time at free clinics and have their malpractice insurance covered.
Washington State Dental Association member dentists are dedicated to improving the oral health care of all Washingtonians. In addition to promoting public policy solutions in Olympia, dentists provide more than 100,000 patients with uncompensated care each year.
An electronic copy of Strengthening the Dental Safety Net may be found at: http://www.wsda.org/storage/government-affairs-docs/Safety_Net_Report.pdf