Local view: As dental care funding decays, Minnesota's most vulnerable sufferIt’s time to wake up and face our grim reality: Many children, homeless adults, adults with HIV and at-risk senior citizens do not receive preventive oral health and dental services.
By: Judy Goldetsky, for the News Tribune
We at Doorstep Healthcare Services are finally fed up. We refuse to be silent any longer. Minnesota, it’s time to wake up and face our grim reality: Many children, homeless adults, adults with HIV and at-risk senior citizens — simply put, thousands of Minnesotans — do not receive preventive oral health and dental services.
And a person cannot be healthy unless the person also is healthy orally.
Underserved, at-risk children and at-risk senior citizens living in underserved areas of Minnesota are not receiving oral preventive care treatment and services, and they often exhibit a greater degree of oral-disease complications and costly future health care.
The human mouth can be the window to the rest of the body. It often reflects general health and well-being and can indicate disease and dysfunction.
Dental disease is important because it affects both children and adults physically, functionally, emotionally and socially.
However, unlike general medical conditions and treatments, the vast majority of oral-health issues are preventable through preventive care, oral literacy and education.
Oral-health disparities reflect an unbalancing trend in our country. Since the 1980s, we have seen earned incomes dramatically increase for the top 20 percent of households, change minimally in the middle and, when adjusted for inflation, actually decrease in the bottom 20 percent. Exacerbated by recent economic downturns, today’s homeless aren’t just the stereotypical alcoholic bum on the streets but entire families.
According to federal reports, illnesses related to oral health result in 6.1 million days of bed disability, 12.7 million days of restricted activity and 20.5 million lost workdays each year. Minnesota children on public insurance are being denied treatment by doctors at much higher rates than those with private coverage, according to a 2011 study that had researchers pose as parents of sick kids seeking an appointment with a specialist. Snubbed even by specialists whose offices supposedly accepted public-insurance patients, these kids had to wait much longer to see a doctor.
In 2008, nearly 350,000 Minnesota children did not receive regular dental care. And Minnesota’s ranking among the top five states for dental health masks an ugly truth: 80 percent of tooth decay is found in just
25 percent of our children, most of them low-income. A year-long study of seven hospitals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area traced 10,325 emergency-room visits to toothaches, abscesses or other untreated dental problems. The cost for these visits exceeded $4.7 million. Children who are taken to hospital emergency departments for severe dental pain can end up in a revolving door that costs Medicaid — and taxpayers — significantly more than preventive and primary care. Hospitals generally are not equipped to provide dental treatment for toothaches and abscesses.
At Doorstep Healthcare Services, we believe access to quality dental care is a basic human right of all individuals, regardless of income level or the ability to pay. In an effort to provide our patients with exceptional service and expertise, we continue to train highly skilled dental professionals to carry on and expand this important work throughout Minnesota. Our mission is to provide caring, high-quality and comprehensive oral health care services to traditionally underserved populations such as the elderly and mentally and/or physically disabled and economically disadvantaged while working toward our goal of eliminating health disparities.
But we cannot continue to serve alone. The payments for medical assistance have been cut dramatically and repeatedly over the past five years. This is the reason so many dentists have been unable to continue offering this care. We need our Washington representatives to get on our team and set aside adequate funding to allow providers to offer care to people that need it most. With our cooperative efforts, we can start seeing the smile back on the faces of our Minnesota children.
Judy Goldetsky of St. Louis Park, Minn., has been meeting health-care needs in Minnesota for 25 years, first as founder of On Call Clinicians Inc., a Twin Cities-area staffing firm, and also as founder of the nonprofit Doorstep Healthcare Service, which serves all of Minnesota.