Just as the mouth is part of the body, oral health is a part of overall health. People cannot be healthy unless they have access to the dental services they need.When dental disease is left untreated it can lead to systemic infection, hospitalization, and the worsening of other medical conditions. For years, Health Care For All has worked on issues related to oral health, including public awareness about the importance of oral health, and access to comprehensive dental care for everyone.
Last Tuesday, HCFA and our allies in the Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce took to Beacon Hill to testify before the Joint Committee on Public Health in support of An Act to Improve Oral Health For All Massachusetts Residents (S.1215/H.1916) legislation that authorizes an additional dental professional, called the dental therapist, to work with a dentist to provide oral health care to more people. HCFA also testified on behalf of An Act Relative to the Restoration of MassHealth Adult Dental Benefits (S. 1212/H. 1917) A bill that will restore full MassHealth dental benefits to more than 1 million individuals, including over 113,000 seniors and 230,000 people living with disabilities. HCFA also provided key testimony to the committee in support of An Act to Promote Public Health Through the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (S. 1293/H. 2012) This bill would maintain the solvency of the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF) which funded successful clinical-community partnerships focused on childhood asthma, falls among older adults, hypertension, and tobacco use.
The room at the hearing was packed on Tuesday. A wide range of stakeholders, including: The Better Oral Health in Massachusetts Coalition, the MassLeague of Community Health Centers, the Mass Dental Hygienists Association, the Forsyth Institute, Massachusetts Senior Action Council, Rosie’s Place, and the ARC of Massachusetts, to name a few, testified in support of the two oral health bills.
HCFA’s Oral Health Program Director, Dr. Neetu Singh, led the charge in providing expert testimony for both bills. Dr Singh made the case that restoring full MassHealth adult dental benefits would not only benefit the Commonwealth’s oral health, but the state’s financial health as well, pointing out that patients who have to skip the dentist’s office are far more likely to end up in the emergency room. Dr. Singh shared research showing that MassHealth members disproportionately use the Emergency Department (ED) for preventable oral health conditions at a cost 4-7 times that of a community-based dental office visit. In just one year, there were over 36,000 preventable oral health ED visits in Massachusetts, costing the health care system between $15 million and $36 million.