fourth of adults age 65 or older have lost all their teeth; only 45 percent of Americans age 2 and older had a dental visit in the past 12 months and more than 16 million lowincome children go each year without seeing a dentist.
Lack of dental access is a national problem but those who are most impacted are people who are low income, racial or ethnic minorities, pregnant women, older adults, those with special needs, and those who live in rural communities. Simply put, the groups that need care the most are the least likely to get it.
What we also learned at the hearing is that access to dental care is about more than a pretty smile. People with dental problems can be forced to live with extreme pain which affects their quality of life, and a mouth without teeth may make it difficult to find and keep a job. Dental problems can have a significant impact on overall health and can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems and poor birth outcomes. In some cases, dental conditions have resulted in great tragedy such as the death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Maryland five years ago.
In order to address the dental crisis facing millions of Americans, the U.S. Congress must take strong action now. My office is working on a comprehensive piece of dental legislation which will address the following concerns:
First, the United States needs more dental providers to serve those in need, and the providers need to work in areas where the need is greatest. Currently, more dentists are retiring than are graduating dental schools. We also need to expand the dental workforce to include allied dental providers such as dental therapists in order to extend the capacity of dental practices and reach underserved populations.
Second, not only do we need more dental providers, but there must be a national call for those in practice to start serving more low-income people. Only 20 percent of the nation’s practicing dentists provide care to people with Medicaid and only an extremely small percentage devote a substantial part of their practice to caring for those who are underserved.