Taking on the Dental Crisis: A Q&A With Bernie Sanders

By:  Greg Kaufmann

This summer, as chairman of the subcommittee on primary health and aging, Senator Bernie Sanders began preparing for a hearing on "The Dental Crisis in America," which will be held this Wednesday. Part of that effort involved soliciting stories from his constituents and Americans across the country about their experiences with access to affordable dental care. He received over 1,000 responses.

"People who are suffering with dental disease and problems with access have never had a chance to express themselves so they're taking advantage of this opportunity to do it," Sanders recently told me.

While the Senator is well known for his advocacy of a single-payer healthcare system, he is also a longtime and passionate advocate for the expansion of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)-community health centers in underserved areas that provide primary medical care, dental care, mental health counseling, and low cost prescription drugs on a sliding-fee basis. He fought for these centers as a Congressman prior to his election to the Senate in 2006, and he was a major player in ensuring that there was a significant investment in FQHCs in the healthcare reform legislation passed in 2010.

But with 47 million people living in areas where it's still difficult to access dental care, 17 million low-income children not seeing a dentist every year, and one-fourth of US adults over age 65 missing all of their teeth, Sanders says there is still a long way to go to address this crisis.

I talked to the senator about this week's hearing as well as what has driven him to focus on an issue that not many people want to talk about. This is what he had to say:

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