June 25, 2018

Hirono, Booker Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Oral Health Care for Underserved Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), introduced the Action for Dental Health Act of 2018, a bill that would reauthorize initiatives that increase access to oral health treatment and prevention services, particularly for underserved communities. 

“Children and families in Hawaii continue to face barriers in accessing necessary dental care – particularly in rural and underserved communities,” Senator Hirono said. “This bill would increase resources for communities across Hawaii to establish regular dental care and increase the number of dental providers.” 

“Oral health is an important part of one’s overall health and well-being, but many people lack access to these essential services -- especially those from underserved communities,” Senator Booker said. “This legislation takes a vital step in addressing those gaps and increasing families’ access to oral health care and preventive services.”

“Oral health is an essential component of overall health and it's critically important for all people in Hawaii to have access to oral health services,” said Dr. Robert Baysa, President of the Hawaii Dental Association. “Leaders like Senator Hirono are helping to promote oral health in a way that will benefit Hawaii's children and adults.”

Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also cosponsored the Action for Dental Health Act.

Children in Hawaii have the highest prevalence of tooth decay in the nation, and many Hawaii residents seek care at hospital emergency departments for untreated and preventable dental conditions. A 2015 report by the Hawaii State Department of Health showed significant oral health disparities in Hawaii’s residents relating to income, education, ethnicity, and geographic location.

This legislation would address these disparities by:

  • Reauthorizing oral health promotion and disease prevention activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as school-based dental sealant programs and support for recruiting dental providers.
  • Establishing an Action for Dental Health Program to improve oral health education and reduce barriers to oral health care.
  • Reauthorizing and expanding a grant program through the Health Resources and Services Administration that helps states increase their oral health workforce and provide needed dental care, particularly in underserved communities.

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