DentaQuest Foundation President on lack of dental coverage

02/05/10 Arielle Stevenson
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Amidst the debate regarding how to mend the health care system, it seems the topic of dental coverage often goes unmentioned. A new report on children’s oral health nationwide due out in the next month hints that Florida may be among the worst in the country for dental care resources. Ralph Fuccillo is the president of the DentaQuest Foundation, an organization that works to improve oral health nationwide. He says that historically, dental health wasn’t considered part of overall healthcare.

You know for a long time we haven’t treated oral health as part of overall health, the oral systemic connection we call it. To help not only consumers, but even the broad scope of health providers appreciate how important oral health to overall health. And the fact that oral disease is 98% preventable.

The split between medical and dental care happened about 150 years ago, says Fuccillo. But recently, research showing that oral health is a part of overall health has made some dental providers change their tune.

The dental care delivery system being outside of medical came about by an act of people deciding that a specialty could be treated one way, and the rest of the body could be treated another way, but it wasn’t always this way. And I think that now that there is a greater emphasis on oral health being part of systemic health and having great impact on that, that providers are coming together.

This morning hundreds lined up outside a New Port Richey dental clinic to receive free cleanings, checkups and fillings. The Tampa Tribune reported that over 500 people would be seen throughout the day, and some lined up as early as 9 a.m. Thursday morning. Fuccillo says, don’t expect those volunteer dental clinic lines to get shorter anytime soon.

The lines for free care are really, they start in the middle of the night in some states where people have just gone without care for so long. For some people, those volunteer clinics are the first dental appointment that they’ve had in their lifetime.

According to Fuccillo, children whose parents have no insurance of their own do have some options for state funded programs.

And for children that really shouldn’t be the case because we have federally-funded programs for Medicaid that is obviously administered at a state by state level. And one of the things that we would be concerned about for instance in the situation in Florida, is that were are only seeing about one third of the children enrolled in Medicaid getting to dental care.

Fuccillo says he would like to get elected officials to attend one of the free health clinics to see how extensive the need for dental care improvement is.

Lets have all of our elected officials, really witness the need and really experience what we see those of us who are concerned and trying to work together on solutions. See firsthand what that looks like and feels like. People are in a lot of pain. In some states there are children in Kindergarten we see children going to school, one in ten of them are in pain from oral health problems.

While a health care solution still seems distant, Fuccillo says that DentaQuest sees a solution in educating the nation in preventative care.

One part of that solution is to focus on oral health as a health issue. It's connected to overall health, and one of the important things is to get that message out. We think to start really basic, to help with that so that people go through their lives not thinking of the cosmetic aspects only of what a smile looks like, but really what is good oral health. And teaching that early in life, engaging parents and educators and really making it a community wide family issue would be terrific.

Education isn’t the only part of the solution, says Fuccillo; access to dental care must be at the forefront of the elected officials minds.

We know the access problem is huge. We are part of a national alliance to improve access. We’ve got lots of different stake holders; we’ve got dentists, health insurers, public health folks and elected officials. And everyone who is put there energies forward wants to solve this problem. But its not on everyone’s mind, and we’d like it to be.

Tune in next week to hear how a lack of access to dental care is affecting students at the University of South Florida.

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