Cummings, Mikulski, Cardin Discuss Pediatric Dental Care

February 23, 2012
Press Release

Cummings, Mikulski, Cardin Discuss Pediatric Dental Care

Forum Recognizes National Children’s Dental Health Month and Commemorates the Fifth Anniversary of the Death of Deamonte Driver

(Washington, DC) - Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (MD-7), Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Ben Cardin hosted a forum Wednesday, to study the expansion of access to children’s dental health care in the past five years. This forum was held as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month, and honored the memory of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Prince George’s County child who died in 2007 when his mother was unable to find a dentist willing to remove his infected tooth.

The three lawmakers discussed the state of pediatric dentistry with two panels of experts, learning about both areas of improvements and of need, from government officials, non-profit stakeholders and the mother of twins who was unable to find adequate dental care.

“Opportunities to have a real discussion about this issue are critical because the investments we make now in our children’s dental health will last a lifetime,” said Congressman Cummings. “It starts with a simple message to families about the importance of oral health, the power of prevention, and the importance of regular screenings. We must protect the progress we’ve made if we want to prevent another tragedy, while we commit ourselves to closing the gaps that still exist.”

Rep. Cummings fought to ensure a guaranteed dental benefit for children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program as well as the requirement in the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees a pediatric dentistry benefit for every insurance package offered through the Health Insurance Exchange. The ACA also includes investments in oral health infrastructure and the oral health workforce that will help to support a sustainable dental health system.

“Everyone, but especially our kids, should get to see a doctor and a dentist to get the health care they need to stay healthy,” Senator Mikulski said. “That’s why I was so proud to announce $40 million in new federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program to pay for health care coverage – including dental coverage – for 137,000 more kids in Maryland. CHIP is so important to families who work every day but can’t afford coverage. That’s how we honor Deamonte Driver - by making sure that kids and adults get the dental care they need to stay healthy.”

Maryland has been nationally recognized for leadership in children’s oral health. Maryland increased its Medicaid dental reimbursement to 70% of median retail fees, one of the highest reimbursement rates in the country, creating an increase of nearly 85 percent over the past two years in the number of dentists who treat Medicaid patients.

“Dental decay is the most prevalent and treatable disease among children,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. “The tragic death of Deamonte Driver made us all very aware that there can be no health without oral health, and we must make sure that every child in America has access to dental care for preventive services and for the treatment of dental disease.”

Challenges still face the pediatric dentistry community however. Rep. Cummings and Sens. Cardin and Mikulski heard evidence that, while improvements are being made, emergency room visits for pediatric dental care are on the rise, indicating a lack of opportunity for traditional dental care on the part of the underprivileged. As well, only 20 states (including Maryland) are currently receiving grants from the Centers for Disease Control to strengthen oral health programs. These grants are badly needed in all 50 states.

Rear Admiral William Bailey, Chief Dental Officer of the United States Public Health Service began the discussion, followed by Jennifer Ryan, Deputy Director of the Children and Adults Health Programs Group at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Harry Goodman, Director of the Office of Oral Health at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Burton Edelstein, Founding Director of the Children’s Dental Health Project and Shelly Gehshan, Director of the Children’s Dental Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The first panel of experts was followed by Dr. Neuthan Rao, a dentist at Chase Brexton Health Services, a Federally Qualified Health Center, Dr. Leo E. Rouse, Dean of the Howard University College of Dentistry, Dr. Lawrence Caplin, CEO of the Oral Health Impact Project and Grace Williams, the mother of two autistic twins, who could not find a dentist to treat her children.
The Forum was held Wednesday at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, Moot Court Room.