The Georgia Dental Association (GDA) recently launched a campaign, “Because I Saw My Dentist.” The campaign is part of a larger “Action for Dental Health Plan,” meant to address barriers to oral health care and improve oral health for Georgians.
Ironically, the GDA initiative comes on the heels of the defeat of HB 684, a bill introduced by the Georgia Dental Hygienists’ Association that would have lowered barriers to dental care and increased access to preventive and therapeutic dental hygiene services for underserved residents. Sadly, GDA opposed the bill and was ultimately responsible for its defeat.
Others have written at length about what the bill would have done. (Here’s a link to a recent GHN Commentary supporting the bill.) And in a separate Commentary, GDA Executive Director Frank Capaldo offered a defense of his group’s stance. (Here’s Capaldo’s Commentary.) Unfortunately, the main issues of the bill are still not being addressed.
A goal of the “Because I Saw My Dentist campaign” is for patients to find a dental home. But the GDA disregarded the fact that the defeated legislation would have established a dental home for many currently underserved patients.
In his Commentary, Capaldo stated that HB 684 did not address barriers to care, such as language, cost, fear, or time off from work. Yet nowhere in its initiative does the GDA provide solutions that address these barriers.
The GDA’s campaign misses the mark on the real issues affecting Georgians. Statistics show that nearly 1 in 5 Georgians live in poverty. Untreated dental decay is the leading chronic disease of childhood. Untreated tooth decay among low-income children in Georgia is 50 percent higher than tooth decay among Georgia children of a higher socioeconomic status.
Sadly, 1 of every 4 children in Georgia lives in a low-income household, and only 50 percent of Georgia Medicaid-eligible children receive preventive dental services. HB 684 would have broken down barriers and expanded services for these population groups.
Capaldo stated in his Commentary that Georgians living in counties without a dentist are within a 30-minute drive of the closest dentist in a neighboring county. However, he did not say how many of these nearby dentists are willing to see these patients at no charge or at reduced fees, or how these private dental practices are any more equipped to address barriers than the safety-net settings listed under HB 684.
The GDA’s initiative lacks a critical piece: Enhancing the dental workforce. Almost every report and study published since the first U.S. Surgeon General’s report on oral health includes the important aspect of breaking down barriers and increasing access to care. HB 684 was based on recommendations from a number of these reports, yet the GDA steadfastly opposed it.
It is unfortunate that with all the information available in numerous published studies by experts in the field, the best that the GDA is able to come up with to improve the oral health of Georgians is its current, limited campaign.
Is it any wonder that Georgia lags behind the rest of the country with regard to oral health access and oral disease prevention?