Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Legislature can solve problem of access to dental care
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.