Dental hygienist Tonya Davis works on Sparrows Point patient Patricia Alvarado's teeth at Canton Dental Associates. File.
Dental hygienist Tonya Davis works on Sparrows Point patient Patricia Alvarado's teeth at Canton Dental Associates. File. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

United Way of Central Maryland applauds The Baltimore Sun for highlighting the shortage of affordable dental care for tens of thousands of Marylanders (“Maryland’s new dental insurance program,” Aug. 22).

A stunning 38% of Marylanders cannot afford all their basic necessities, according to the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) report of 2018. These families are being forced to make tough choices between things like quality child care and dental care, for example, and often these families choose to sacrifice their dental health in the face of other pressing needs.

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Lack of routine preventive dental care leads to expensive long-term problems, such as chronic gum disease. Visible dental problems, such as missing teeth or tooth decay, are often barriers to employment and an inability to treat urgent dental issues snowballs into infections and eventually costly emergency room visits.

It is for this reason that United Way of Central Maryland has prioritized offering urgent and preventive dental services to nearly 1,000 patients at our annual Baltimore Mission of Mercy and Project Homeless Connect events. A broader reaching solution for Maryland is desperately needed.

While the Medicaid Adult Dental Pilot Program is a welcome first step, the initiative is limited to patients who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare ages 21 to 64. Patients who have dual eligibility tend to be disabled and have greater service needs than the average Medicaid recipient. Therefore, the results of the pilot will likely project misleading costs that make expanding dental coverage to all Medicaid recipients seem more expensive than it would actually be.

United Way of Central Maryland would like to thank Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly for their bold vision in crafting a program that begins to serve those who cannot afford even basic dental care. We would welcome the opportunity to work with these leaders to press forward in advancing legislation and initiatives to broaden the pilot to include all Medicaid recipients and to improve access to dental care for all Marylanders.

Franklyn Baker and Scott Gottbreht, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, president and CEO, and associate vice president for homeless services, of the United Way of Central Maryland.

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