I've been a dentist in Spokane County for over 26 years. My colleagues and I across the state continue to see kids come through the doors of our offices with conditions that could have been prevented with proper care and treatment. We occasionally see patients who have neglected basic dental care procedures due to their lack of resources.
Sadly, when we examine and diagnose the extent of disease, extraction of their teeth is often the only option they can afford. In fact, according to a 2006 study by the Washington state Department of Health, Spokane County ranks worse than the statewide average for elementary school kids who have experienced some sort of tooth decay, which resulted in a cavity, filling, or lost tooth due to a cavity.
This is a crucial issue, and one that affects our entire community.
Dental problems that go untreated can worsen diabetes, lead to the spread of infections or heart malfunctions, and, in pregnant women, cause low birth weight for their babies. According to a recent study by the Washington State Hospital Association, unspecified dental disorders is the No. 1 reason why the uninsured go to emergency rooms, oftentimes for issues that were worsened by lack of routine care and could have been prevented with regular dental visits.
As doctors of dentistry, we know that oral health care is essential for complete physical health, and is something everyone needs and deserves. Over the last few years, I have become excited by many of the generous activities by members of the dental community to improve access to dental care. My colleagues and I want all Washingtonians to have access to high-quality and affordable care.
While there are myriad reasons beyond the control of dentists for the lack of such access, we're working to fix the problem one patient at a time. Dentists across the state volunteer thousands of hours annually in charitable clinics. We practice in dental vans to provide free care in rural and underserved areas across the state. We are teaming up with schools, community health clinics, and service clubs to provide care to needy and low-income populations. Many of our members practice full time in a community-clinic setting, providing direct access to care for those most in need.
Closer to home, members of the Spokane District Dental Society are involved in numerous charitable activities to provide care for those in need. The society joined forces with hygienists and dental assistants for our Give Kids a Smile Day, which last year resulted in 265 free procedures performed on more than 80 children.
Our Senior Smile Day resulted in over $27,000 of dental treatment provided for free to more than 100 senior citizens. Local dentists even have made themselves available on a KHQ-TV news hour to answer questions the public might have regarding dental care.
These are just a few examples of the charitable activities dentists are involved in throughout the county. While we celebrate our volunteer activities, we realize that our efforts also must be directed at developing policy solutions that improve dental access for all of those in need.
The Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) project is an example of thoughtful, successful public policy. This nationally acclaimed program has dramatically improved access to oral health care for hundreds of children in rural and urban areas throughout the state. It is successful because of the collaboration of legislators, the University of Washington's School of Dentistry, organized dentistry, local health departments, and a Medicaid-Department of Social and Health Services program. Special features of that program include emphasis on family education, case management, primary prevention, improved access to dental offices for treatment, dentist provider training, and modest improvements in fee reimbursement from the Medicaid program. ABCD saves money for Medicaid while improving dental health, as documented in research by the University of Washington, and it all started as a pilot project here in Spokane.
We'll keep working to help solve this problem through both individual actions and collaborative efforts. Also, however, we urge the Legislature to work with us, as it has in the past, to help craft policy solutions that provide access to affordable dental care, but don't put patients at risk or offer only fragmented care.
Washingtonians deserve high-quality, affordable oral health care, and dentists across the state are committed to help make it happen.
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