Maine CDC Press Release

April 7, 2003

Meeting in Augusta to Address Dental Health Access

Contacts: Judy Feinstein, Director Newell Augur
  Oral Health Program Office of Public and Legislative Affairs
  Tel: (207) 287-3267 Tel: (207) 287-1921
  TTY: (207) 287-8066 TTY: (207) 287-4479

Many of the state’s leaders in oral healthcare policy and treatment convened in Augusta today to work on improving access to oral health services in Maine. The summit, “Maine's Oral Health Crisis: Developing an Action Agenda for 2003-2004,” is being sponsored by the Maine Department of Human Services. The summit includes representatives of the oral health community from state government, community agencies, private foundations, dental associations and other healthcare groups, who will be developing solutions for one of Maine’s most critical healthcare issues.

Acting DHS Commissioner Peter Walsh noted that many of the organizations attending the event already have designed and implemented creative ideas aimed at increasing access to oral health care in Maine. “We hope that by bringing together the best of these solutions at this summit, we can forge a plan that will serve as the cornerstone for both public and private initiatives in the near future.” In that vein, Walsh pointed out that four new community-based dental programs have begun within the past three years, a 25% increase in the number of community-based dental centers in Maine. Volunteer-centered initiatives have also been successful in connecting people with the dental care that they need.

Poor oral health has significant social and economic consequences, as well as a negative effect on overall health. Ironically, dental disease, which affects both children and adults, may be one of the most preventable diseases known. Dental caries – or “cavities” – is the most common chronic disease among children, 5 times more common than asthma. Dental decay affects as many as 50% of all first-graders in Maine.

The situation has become more challenging due to a shortage of dentists, a situation that may continue as many of those who currently practice draw closer to retirement. Similarly, there are a limited number of health departments that provide an infrastructure for public health services, and only a small number of private and public non-profit dental clinics scattered through the state.

State health officials note that because oral health is such an important part of overall health, examining these issues is precisely the reason for convening this summit. “We need to increase the areas in Maine where there are comprehensive oral health initiatives,” said Dora Anne Mills, Director of DHS’ s Bureau of Health, “and we’re very happy to be working with a broad range of stakeholders to help improve access to dental care and, ultimately, the oral health of all Maine’s citizens.”

Additional co-sponsored of the summit include Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Betterment Fund, Bingham Program, Foundation for Seacoast Health, Maine Dental Access Coalition, Maine Dental Association, Maine Dental Hygienists Association, Maine Health Access Foundation, Maine Primary Care Association, New Hampshire Endowment for Health and Northeast Delta Dental.

The keynote speaker for the event is Dr. James J. Crall, a nationally recognized oral health policy expert, who also serves as Director of Columbia University's Oral Health Disparities and Policy Center.