Minorities Focus Of Oral Health Initiative
Landover, MD – Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, today announced an initiative to expand oral health services, education and research in America. Through the initiative, the department is increasing support for and expanding its emphasis on access to oral health care and the effective delivery of services to underserved populations.
Speaking at the National Oral Health Conference in St. Louis, Dr. Koh told oral health professionals that eight HHS agencies had collaborated to launch initiatives and spread public awareness under the message Oral Health Is Integral to Overall Health. “In the U.S., 53 million children and adults have untreated tooth decay in their permanent teeth,” said Dr. Koh. “There is a silent epidemic of dental and oral health diseases that burden millions of children and adults across the states. With this initiative, we plan to improve oral health by removing barriers to care.’’
This joint effort will be led by Dr. Koh and Dr. Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, with support from the U.S. Public Health Service Oral Health Coordinating Committee and the HHS Office of Minority Health.
“This emphasis on oral health across the department will give it the attention it deserves,” said Dr. Wakefield. “It is critically important that the public understands that good oral health is a major part of good overall health.”
“Poor oral health remains a serious national health problem,” says Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary for minority health. “We are diligently working together with other HHS agencies and the Office of the Surgeon General to significantly increase awareness of the importance of oral health for racial and ethnic minorities and other populations that experience higher levels of oral diseases. We are also establishing stronger public-private partnerships improve oral health.”
The initiative will use a systems approach to create programs that emphasize health promotion and disease prevention, increase access to care, strengthen the oral health workforce, and eliminate oral health disparities. As part of the initiative, HHS agencies will emphasize a number of activities. Among them are the following:
- The Administration for Children and Families will secure dental homes – ongoing sources of comprehensive dental care - for Head Start children, and educate Head Start staff and parents about the need to establish healthy habits to reduce tooth decay at an early age.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health will develop a long-range plan to monitor oral diseases, conditions and oral health-related behaviors in the U.S. population.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are reviewing eight state Medicaid programs to identify and highlight innovative service strategies to increase access to care.
- The Indian Health Service will expand its Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) Initiative through interdisciplinary efforts including early childhood assessments by partners like Head Start, WIC, and community health representatives,to include development of a national surveillance system for American Indians/Alaskan Natives.
- The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is supporting two national studies that will recommend short- and long-term strategies for HRSA and other HHS agency service programs.
- The Office of Minority Health will develop online cultural competency training modules for oral health clinical providers.
- The Office on Women’s Health will incorporate enhanced oral health messages in its websites (www.womenshealth.gov and www.girlshealth.gov) and its products and campaigns.
- The NIH National Center for Research Resources, will fund the development of a Web-accessible clinical research toolkit for researchers to facilitate the standardization of dental research and a national dental research consortium infrastructure.
CMS is encouraging all states to promote oral health services and education, “A few states are trying new approaches to increase access to care for children,” said Cindy Mann, director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations at CMS. “These new approaches include allowing dental hygienists and other mid-level dental providers to provide community based preventive services for children and allowing pediatricians and primary care doctors to provide fluoride–varnish to children at high risk for tooth decay. Other states are also promoting the use of dental sealants to prevent tooth decay. We encourage states to take up these highly effective approaches.”
The Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act authorized expanded dental coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Agency coordination of these programs is taking place through the PHS Oral Health Coordinating Committee, a group of health professionals from across HHS chaired by the chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. For more information about the Oral Health Initiative, visit http://www.hrsa.gov/publichealth/clinical/oralhealth/
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