Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Legislatur­e can solve problem of access to dental care

- Doctors Brandon Alegre of Boca Raton, Karen Glerum of Boynton Beach and Bruce Tandy of Delray Beach are the co-chairs of the Florida Dental Associatio­n Foundation’s 2023 Florida Mission of Mercy held in West Palm Beach Feb. 24 and 25.

The Florida Dental Associatio­n Foundation recently held the eighth Florida Mission of Mercy event in West Palm Beach. The Florida Mission of Mercy is a two-day, profession­al dental clinic, held in a different Florida city each year, that provides care at no charge to patients. This year, we were able to provide more than $1.8 million in donated dental care to more than 1,300 patients.

Many patients received more than just dental care. They restored their smiles, self-esteem and confidence to walk into a job interview. They regained the ability to eat and even breathe without pain. They received treatment and relief from dental infections and issues that might have otherwise caused them to seek temporary care at hospital emergency department­s.

One patient drove across the state to participat­e in this event and receive extensive dental care services, calling it a blessing that she was going to have teeth and be able to smile at her granddaugh­ter’s wedding this fall.

We are grateful for the opportunit­y to safely provide these services, but this event highlights the significan­t and immediate need for solutions to ensure dental care for all Floridians, particular­ly those in underserve­d communitie­s. Too many Floridians are in pain and unsure of where to go for help — too often seeking care in hospital emergency department­s, where they can get antibiotic­s to treat dental infection but not treatment for the cause of the infection.

With more than 14,000 dentists and 30,000 dental team members in Florida, we have the dental workforce to meet the needs of Floridians. We need solutions to connect Florida dentists to underserve­d patients and communitie­s.

Since 2014, the Florida Dental Associatio­n has introduced and championed proactive solutions to improve the oral health of all Floridians through Florida’s Action for Dental Health. This initiative includes efforts to expand public health dentistry; promote attainable care for the uninsured and underserve­d; and support and expand volunteer safety net programs like the Florida Mission of Mercy.

This legislativ­e session, Florida lawmakers have several opportunit­ies to help support oral health and access to dental care.

One key opportunit­y is to pass funding to implement Florida’s dental student loan repayment program and donated dental services program. The dental student loan repayment program will help dentists practice in public health programs and serve low-income patients in designated rural and underserve­d areas. Florida’s donated dental services program connects volunteer dentists with seniors and individual­s who have disabiliti­es or are medically compromise­d, to provide comprehens­ive dental services — at no cost — in dentists’ offices with support from volunteer dental labs to provide supplies like crowns and dental implants.

If the Legislatur­e acts, Florida dentists can start helping thousands of patients in need this year just through these two programs. Additional opportunit­ies include:

■ Increasing funding for dental in Florida’ s Medicaid program, which is currently ranked lowest in the country in terms of funding.

■ Supporting the creation of a state-funded veterans dental care program.

■ Supporting funding for the annual Florida Mission of Mercy program;

■ And supporting the one-year sales tax exemption for oral hygiene products included in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Framework for Freedom Budget.

By supporting solutions that promote access to routine dental services for all Floridians, we can make a lasting impact on people’s lives and futures. Our state’s elected leaders must recognize the importance of dental care and support and invest in solutions to ensure that every Floridian has the opportunit­y for good oral health.

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and Karen Glerum
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By Brandon Alegre
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and Bruce Tandy

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