Breaking down barriers for improved oral health

Lobby Day Penn
Students from Pennsylvania meet with staff on the Hill at ASDA’s National Dental Student Lobby Day this past April.

In April, more than 380 dental students from across the country united in Washington. Students met with legislators and lobbied for the Action for Dental Health Act. H.R. 539 is a bipartisan supported bill introduced to Congress by Representative Robin Kelly from Illinois. If passed, the bill would allow nonprofit organizations to qualify for oral health grants administered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These grants could be used to support several programs outlined within the ADA Action for Dental Health initiative.

The Action for Dental Health initiative focuses on three goals:

  1. Providing care now to people who suffer from untreated dental disease.
  2. Strengthen and expand the public/private safety net.
  3. Bring Disease prevention and education into communities.

Why is this initiative important?

  • 2.1 million: The number of patients seeking dental care in emergency rooms in 2010. [2]
  • 2.1 billion: The cost associated with emergency room visits for dental related issues. [2]
  • 1.65 million: The number of ER visits that could have been diverted to dental clinics, resulting in $1.7 billion in savings. [1]
  • 1.27 million:  The estimated  ER visits for young adults, age 20-29. This at-risk population accounts for 42% of all dental related ER visits. [2]
  • 1.4 million: The number of senior citizens currently residing in long-term care facilities needing dental care.  The number of senior citizens, age 65 and older, is projected to double in the next 50 years. [1]

The fact that so many of our friends are not getting access to routine dental care should resonate with many dental students.  Furthermore, our grandparents and parents are going to be affected by barriers to care as they age.  In the next fifty years, we ourselves will become victims if something is not done to resolve this problem. How can we as health care professionals resolve this epidemic and improve access to care before it is too late?  How can we help our friends get affordable access to care?

Action for Dental Health goals of providing care now to people who suffer from untreated dental disease and bringing disease prevention and education into communities are the toughest to accomplish.  The state  success stories listed below highlight programs implemented to address these issues.  If more states follow suit, patients may no longer seek dental care in the ER.  Long term care residents may gain access to dental care.  With more states hiring Community Dental Health Coordinators, patients can have a point of contact on how to go about finding a dental home.  These are the success stories:

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.23.21 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.28.59 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.53.31 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.54.22 PM

Many of us chose to become dentists to serve our communities and patients. The best way to demonstrate we care is to help patients get the care they need.  If you were not able to make it to Lobby Day or have not joined other dental students by making your voice heard, take action and write your legislators to support H.R. 539 via ASDA Engage.  This way your legislators can understand why improving access to oral health care can make a tremendous impact to everyone.

What are ways you think we, as future dentists, can remove barriers to care for our patients?  Tell us your thoughts below.

~Rebekkah Merrell, Pennsylvania ’16, District 3 trustee



  1.   Action for Dental Health – ADA “Year Two:  2015 A progress Report
  2.  Lewis, Charlotte, Christy McKinney, Helen Lee, Molly Melbye, and Tessa Rue. “Visits to US Emergency Departments by 20- to 29-year-olds with Toothache during 2001-2010.” JADA 146.5 (2015): 295-302.e. Print.
  3. Healthy People 2020
  4. CDC
  5. Vermont State Dental Society – “Vermont Action for Dental Health”

Rebekkah Merrell

Rebekkah Merrell is a 2016 Doctor of Dental Medicine candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. She currently serves as the District 3 trustee, on the Council of Advocacy, and the 2015 ASDA Delegation to the ADA House of Delegates.

You may also like ...

1 Comment

  1. As dental care providers, we are in this business to help our patients with their oral health. Unfortunately, dental care isn’t free! If people are having trouble paying, that means the system may be in need of reform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *