It's never too late to do the right thing [Letter]

We, three retired health professionals, applaud Congressman Elijah Cummings for introducing HR 3120, the Comprehensive Dental Reform Act. His bill, identical to SB 1522, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, if enacted, would fill a gap in the health care legislation of the Affordable Care Act.

Testimony at two Congressional hearings on Senator Senders' Bill, in 2012 on access, and in 2013 on costs, highlighted the nation's health status related to our failure to provide and improve dental care. The basic concept of the Affordable Care Act is that it recognizes that, at every stage of life, access to health information and care , improves the living experience.

Here are some of the 2009 data reported at the hearings: 16 million children were without dental care; 47.8 million Americans lived in areas designated as having a shortage of dentists; preventable dental conditions were the primary diagnoses in more than 530,000 visits to ER nationwide; and more than 74 million Americans' public water supply was not fluoridated.

If any component of overall health is overlooked or ignored, other areas are directly or indirectly adversely affected. Witness the Baltimore Sun op-ed by Rep. Cummings and Norman Tinanoff, director of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry ("Dental reform act could save lives March 6), which recounts the tragic death of 12 year- old Deamonte Driver of Prince George 's County "... for lack of a simple procedure early on to remove a tooth".

As the op-ed notes "We have made immense progress since Deamonte's death." For example, Prince George's County now has a mobile dental unit which works with volunteer dentists in the neighborhood they service. An oral health screening program of 3000 children in the county, funded by a Kaiser Foundation grant, found 200 children in immediate need with infection or multiple decayed teeth.

We, the authors of this article, have witnessed the progress but have also seen, first hand, the far too slow progress to improve dental care.

As a dental officer in WW II, Arthur Bushel saw the deplorable dental condition of many army recruits: 10 percent of them didn't meet the requirement that they have two opposing teeth. Later, as chief dental officer for New York City (from 1954 to 1969), Dr. Bushel worked to fluoridate drinking water throughout the state, after a comprehensive research study.

In 1966, as the first chair of the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, Burton R. Pollack created a curriculum to widen the awareness that dental care was part of a comprehensive approach to health care. He recruited Morris Roseman, a psychologist, along with others to assist in this effort, and worked to widen access to dental care and to the practice of the profession by minority groups.

We feel strongly that passage of these bills will move the United States toward a place where health care is a right, not a privilege.

Morris Roseman, Ph.D., Burton R. Pollack, D.D.S., J.D., M.P.H., and Arthur Bushel, D.D.S., M.P.H.

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