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CareFirst: Maryland should expand dental care efforts

Volunteers extract a tooth from John Clark, 53, an unemployed Florida man who did not have dental insurance. File.
Volunteers extract a tooth from John Clark, 53, an unemployed Florida man who did not have dental insurance. File. (Jason Ruiter / Orlando Sentinel)

We’ve watched with interest during the past few weeks as The Sun’s coverage of the Maryland Adult Dental Pilot Program has generated important discussion about the lack of dental care for Marylanders who can’t afford it (“Maryland’s new dental insurance program for low-income residents pays to remove teeth — but not replace them,” Aug. 22).

Dental care is health care. Failure to properly care for teeth and gums can lead to emergency room visits and exacerbate chronic health conditions like heart disease, kidney failure, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. As we all know, any of these health conditions can adversely impact one’s quality of life and family.

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For these reasons, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield has partnered with the United Way of Central Maryland and nonprofit community health centers in Baltimore and beyond to fund programs aimed at providing basic and emergency dental care to under- and uninsured residents throughout the state.

In the past two years, CareFirst has contributed $150,000 to Mission of Mercy events in Baltimore, Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore that helped provide more than $3 million worth of needed dental care services to about 2,800 low-income residents. More than 15,000 procedures — including routine exams, X-rays, fillings, extractions and fluoride treatments — were performed at the four regional events.

Meanwhile, we also have supported the expansion of dental care services offered by other nonprofit health organizations in Maryland. In Baltimore, the Helping Up Mission, which assists individuals battling addiction and homelessness, recently began using a $50,000 grant from CareFirst to offer dental and oral health care to its clients — 15 of whom gained employment after receiving their dental care. We also recently funded programs at Western Maryland Health System and The Arc of Prince George’s County aimed at improving the technology and other resources needed to treat adults and children who require dental care but often can’t afford it.

As the region’s largest not-for-profit health insurer, it is CareFirst’s mission to support public and private initiatives that help to provide access to critical health care services for those without insurance. We applaud the work of our nonprofit health care partners in Maryland that are helping to address the shortage of dental care for the state’s residents who need it but can’t afford it or don’t have access to it.

We look forward to continuing to work with our partner organizations as well as state health care officials focused on plugging this hole in Maryland’s health care system.

Maria Harris Tildon, Baltimore

The writer is executive vice president for marketing, communications and external affairs at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

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