We know this: Black and Hispanic children and those from low-income families are much more likely to experience severe oral infections, but much less likely to receive treatment. Recent Catalyst Institute reports have provided the hard data behind these blatant inequities. Now it’s time for a solution.
A myriad group of oral health professionals and advocates is attempting to do just this. They took the first step earlier this month, in the form of an Oral Health Summit in Sturbridge, MA. Their goal? The creation of a comprehensive Oral Health Plan for Massachusetts. The list of supporters is impressive – dentists, dental hygienists, doctors, lawmakers, public health officials and insurers have all signed up for the challenge.
Why are so many involved? Because good oral health is critical to overall health. It’s a simple, but often overlooked fact. Oral infections inhibit learning, sleep, speech and eating. They are also a harbinger for future disease, including diabetes and stroke.
While the disease is almost entirely preventable, many still suffer from chronic infections. More than 51 million school hours and 164 million work hours are lost each year in the U.S. due to oral health problems.
All Massachusetts residents – regardless of race or income – should have access to preventative treatments easily prevent or eliminate oral disease. Community-based programs have proven significantly effective in increasing access and will likely be a cornerstone of any plan moving forward.The planning process has only just begun. But “Better Oral Health for Massachusetts,” as the new coalition calls itself, has already taken important steps toward expanding much-needed access. The group agreed on a set of principals that will drive the process forward. Members commit to establishing clearly defined goals, create priorities for action, draw from best practices, define a timeline and establish clear lines of accountability.
The initiative, led by the Oral Health Foundation, Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc., Massachusetts Dental Society, Delta Dental of Massachusetts, , Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists’ Association are the founding sponsors. Given the cause, we have no doubt that many more will join in the near future.
Fay Donohue is President & CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts.
This program aired on June 12, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.