Former Surgeon General: Affordable Care Act an Opportunity to Improve Oral Health Care

Jul 24, 2012, 8:00 AM

The Affordable Care Act will allow more Americans to access dental health services, former Surgeon General and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars almnus David Satcher, MD, PhD, said recently at forum on unmet oral health needs, but there are concerns that the current dental workforce will not be able to meet the increase in demand. Satcher spoke at “Unmet Oral Health Needs, Underserved Populations, and New Workforce Models: An Urgent Dialogue,” a July 17 forum sponsored by the Morehouse School of Medicine and the Sullivan Alliance.

“We now have an opportunity to dramatically increase coverage,” he said. “But adding dental benefits will not translate into access to care if we do not have providers in place to offer treatment.” More than five million additional children will be entitled to dental health benefits under the Affordable Care Act, according to a news release from the Morehouse School of Medicine.

“I think we need more dentists and I think we need more professionals who are not dentists but who can contribute to oral health care services,” Satcher said.  He was referring to mid-level dental providers, known as dental therapists.

Though improvements have been made in the 12 years since then-Surgeon General Satcher issued a report offering a framework for improving access to oral health, problems persist. Tooth decay is still common among children, he said, and many people do not have easy access to oral health providers.

Read the press release from the Morehouse School of Medicine.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.