The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held a hearing last week entitled “Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Address Cost.” The hearing, chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was a follow-up to a hearing last year on the lack of dental care in the United States.
Among topics highlighted during the hearing was the progress being made in expanding dental care for lower and middle income families through Community Health Centers which provide dental services to more than four million Americans a year.
Greg Nycz, Executive Director of Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. in Marshfield, WI was one of four panelists invited to testify. Family Health Center operates one of the largest FQHC dental practices in the nation and is the largest provider of dental services to Medicaid patients in Wisconsin.
Pointing to the success health centers have achieved in Wisconsin, Nycz testified that efforts to boost access to affordable dental services through health centers have generated savings in health care costs and improved public health, but more needs to be done.
Family Health Center’s success is also echoed in the progress health centers across the country have made in integrating dental care into their services. In fact in 2011, 78 percent of Community Health Centers offered dental services at at least one of their sites, and Health Centers increased the number of patients receiving dental care at their sites from 1.4 million in 2001 to more than 4 million in 2011.
But Nycz also cautioned that the current demand for dental services is outpacing growth and funding opportunities are scarce.
“Over 300 of us applied for funding to meet identified unmet dental needs in 2011. Unfortunately, a last minute budget deal included a $600 million cut to planned health center funding and there have been no opportunities to fund oral health expansions since then,” he testified.
As he ended his testimony, Nycz said “As a nation we should not lose sight of the importance of oral health to general health, and the importance of oral health in its own right. What some of us take for granted is currently beyond the reach of many. Discussions I have had with many well-educated people on the problems lower income people face obtaining dental care usually result in surprise. They didn’t know. There is a reason the Surgeon General referred to this problem as a “silent epidemic.”