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American Dental Association Statement on PBS Frontline's "Dollars and Dentists"

Posted on Wednesday, October 9, 2013

CHICAGO, June 27, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The American Dental Association appreciates the mounting media interest in what Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., famously called a "silent epidemic" of oral disease. Unfortunately, the situation has improved little since Dr. Satcher wrote those words in 2000. The needless suffering caused by untreated dental disease that could have been prevented or easily treated in its early stages is unacceptable. Coverage by PBS's "Frontline" and other media can increase awareness of this ongoing tragedy and, we hope, the political will to do something about it.

We also are concerned, however, that "Frontline's" focus on allegations of Medicaid fraud and abuse may create negative and erroneous impressions about the larger sphere of Medicaid providers. Of course, any dentist in any practice setting should adhere to the profession's self-imposed ethical standards, and should be subject to the laws and regulations of the state in which he or she practices.   But we must not let a few bad actors tarnish the work of thousands of honest, caring dentists who treat Medicaid patients, often for breakeven or even negative revenues. They do so because they feel a responsibility to provide care to people whose economic circumstances would otherwise prevent them from receiving it. Further, many dentists who cannot afford to participate in Medicaid or wrestle with its often onerous paperwork instead treat needy patients for free. One estimate has U.S. dentists providing some $2.6 billion in free or discounted care in a single year.

There are right ways and wrong ways to improve access to dental care in America. The right way is to understand that while oral health care is essential, the ultimate goal is oral health. The right way is to recognize that there are multiple barriers that impede tens of millions of Americans from attaining optimal oral health, including geography, culture, language, poverty and, in the larger sense, a societal failure to value oral health. Taking on just one of them won't work; we must continue to approach the problems holistically. The wrong way is to invest solely in therapist programs that other countries have used for decades, with little appreciable effect on their rates of oral disease.

The country will never drill, fill and extract its way to victory over untreated dental disease. A public health system based primarily on surgical intervention in disease that could have easily been prevented is ill conceived and doomed to fail. Community water fluoridation, school based clinics that provide dental sealants to children, rebuilding the tattered oral health safety net, improving health literacy, and educating the public in basic preventive behaviors all will dramatically improve the health of those suffering with untreated disease and, more important, stop disease before it starts. Until we reorient the focus toward these proven measures, the country will fail to meet the needs of those who face the greatest barriers to good oral health.

Robert Raible


About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing more than 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit the Association's website at

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