Sanders, Cummings Propose Bill on Dental Crisis

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) today introduced legislation to dramatically improve access to dental care.

The Comprehensive Dental Reform Act would expand dental coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Veterans Affairs, filling the gap for the more than 1 in 4 Americans who lack dental insurance.

The bill was filed in the Senate and House on today’s 8th anniversary of the death of Deamonte Driver, a Maryland youth who died when a simple abscessed tooth caused an infection that spread to his brain.

“We have a dental crisis in America. Tens of millions of Americans cannot afford to see a dentist or live in parts of the country where there are no dentists. Because untreated dental problems can have serious health consequences, we must ensure that people have access to care before it’s too late,” Sanders said.

“Most people think of oral health and imagine whiter teeth or a straighter smile. What we learned from Deamonte is that oral health is an essential link to overall health,” said Cummings. “We can no longer afford to consider dental care as an optional service.”

In addition to expanding dental coverage, the House and Senate bills would:

• Address difficulties faced by the more than 47 million Americans who live in areas of the country lacking enough dentists to serve the population.

• Address the shortage in dental care providers that accept Medicaid.

• Expand National Health Services Corps scholarship and loan repayment programs to include dental care.

• Authorize funding to increase access to dental services at clinics such as community health centers and school-based health centers.

• Integrate oral health care with overall health care through additional support for programs to educate non-dental health professionals about oral health.

• Authorize additional funding for oral health research.

In the Senate, Sanders’ bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). House co-sponsors are Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington,  D.C. The bill is supported by more than 20 public health organizations, including the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the American Public Health Association, the Children’s Dental Health Project, Families USA, and the National Association of Community Health Centers.

To read the Senate bill, click here.

To read a summary of the bill, click here.

To see a list of organizations supporting the bill, click here.

Read an op-ed in Roll Call