U.S. Surgeon General's First-Ever Report on Oral Health Calls for Nationwide Improvements, Echos American Dental Hygienists' Association's Longtime Message for Better Access

May 25, 2000, 01:00 ET from American Dental Hygienists' Association

    CHICAGO, May 25 /PRNewswire/ -- While the nation has experienced
 significant improvements in oral health over the past 50 years, the benefits
 have not reached all Americans, according to U.S. Surgeon General David
 Satcher, M.D., Ph.D.  The disparities in oral health care and the critical
 relationship between oral health and general health prompted Secretary Donna
 Shalala to commission the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health.
 The report calls for a national partnership to make oral health care
 accessible to those segments of the population who do not currently receive
     "Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General provides the
 wake-up call that dental hygienists have been broadcasting for decades," says
 Lisa B. Potter, R.D.H., president of the American Dental Hygienists'
 Association and a 30-year veteran dental hygienist.  "Dental hygienists have
 always been ready to help close the gap in health care.  Unfortunately, we
 have been blocked by regulations that prohibit us from delivering care except
 when a dentist is physically present."
     Today, because of restrictive state supervision laws, dental hygienists
 primarily work in private dental offices providing treatment to prevent dental
 caries and periodontal disease.  They cannot examine or treat
 Medicaid-eligible children or provide care to children in schools, other
 institutional settings or to children who are homebound, if the dentist will
 not see them.
     Increasing access to preventive oral care services through school-based or
 school-linked approaches is among the wide variety of programs that can help
 reduce or eliminate disparities in access to oral care and improve the oral
 status of children.  It is known that high-risk children are more likely to
 receive dental sealants -- one of the most effective ways to prevent decay --
 if they can be provided through school-based or school-linked settings.
     "The profession of dental hygiene began on the premise that the most
 important element of oral health and tooth decay prevention was to teach
 children the need for general hygiene and the skills needed to care for their
 mouths," according to Potter.  "Dental hygienists trace their origin as far
 back as 1843, when their primary function was to provide an added service to
 schoolchildren, offering teeth cleanings, instruction in brushing and flossing
 and education in nutrition and general hygiene."
     Potter points out that despite progress made during past years, tooth
 decay is still the most common chronic condition of children nationwide.
 National health surveys reveal that poor children have five times more
 untreated dental caries (cavities) than children in higher-income families.
     The Surgeon General's report underscores that communities, individuals and
 health professionals can adopt existing effective measures to close the gap in
 oral health care.  Potter concludes that relaxing state regulations that
 restrict dental hygienists from providing much needed preventive oral health
 care is one solution to closing this gap.
     ADHA is the largest national organization representing the professional
 interests of the more than 100,000 licensed dental hygienists across the
 country.  Dental hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, licensed
 in dental hygiene, who provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services
 that support total health through the promotion of optimal oral health.
     To view an executive summary of the report, as well as a wealth of other
 oral health information and a chance to receive a free toothbrush, visit
 www.adha.org .

SOURCE American Dental Hygienists' Association