How The Supreme Court’s Ruling Affects Dental Care

June 28, 2012
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by Sarah Childress Senior Digital Reporter, FRONTLINE Enterprise Journalism Group

Long overlooked as a secondary aspect of health care, dental care is an important element of overall health, experts say. But as we reported this week in Dollars and Dentists — which you can watch here — the high cost of care keeps more than 100 million Americans out of the dentist’s chair — and in danger of developing serious health problems as a result.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to offer dental care for children, but not adults, leaving “improvement in access to oral health for adults a continuing challenge,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured wrote in a policy brief this month.

The law provides additional funding to expand access for people who live in so-called “dental deserts,” or places where people don’t have access to dental care providers. A little more than 15 percent of the U.S. population currently lives in an area with a shortage of dental care providers, according to Kaiser.

The ACA also funds [PDF] national public-education programs on preventing oral diseases, and a program to better educate community-based providers of care, including the Indian Health Service.

And the law set aside for multimillion-dollar grants to establish training programs for alternative dental health care providers — such as dental hygienists, dental therapists — to boost services in rural areas and other places where people lack access to care. It also allows for grants and loan repayment programs for dental students and other health professionals.

The American Dental Association has been supportive of the expansion of dental care under the law. But it strongly opposes dental therapists and has lobbied hard to defeat such provisions in state law.

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