But you can be a voice for greater access to dental care.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with The California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation responded in 2001 with a nine-year demonstration project that increased the recruitment, enrollment and retention of minorities in dental schools. The dental Pipeline program, as it’s known, also created and operated community-based dental education programs at 23 sites across the country. The two-pronged strategy made headway in expanding access to dental care in underserved communities and improving the cultural competency of providers. Dental Pipeline wrapped up this past June with a 128-page report and guide on how to start and operate successful community-based dental education programs and programs aimed at bringing more underrepresented minority students into the fold of dental education. (Click www.jdentaled.org/content/vol74/10_suppl to read the report, which is published in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of Dental Education.) The challenge today is to build on the gains the pioneering initiative made.
Oral health is essential to wellness. “You can’t be healthy without oral health,” said former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala in the surgeon general’s seminal report. Poor oral health can affect the ability to eat, the foods we choose, how we look, and how we communicate the report goes on to say. Untreated tooth decay can even lead to life-threatening infections. In 2007, 12-year-old Deamonte Driver from Prince George’s County, Maryland, died from bacteria from an untreated tooth infection that traveled to his brain.
The Affordable Care Act makes it possible for children and young adults to get the preventive dental care they need to stay healthy. With the tea party pushing to repeal health reform, the historic legislation is as vulnerable as the American people who need health reform the most. We must safeguard the Affordable Care Act from destruction as well as advocate for more programs like the successful dental Pipeline project. Next Halloween when the little girl with the angelic smile and her mommy drop by, I want to see a healthy smile light up the mother’s face.