BALTIMORE – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) today announced that the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the office of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), has awarded a grant in the amount of $1 million over four years to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (MDHMH). MDHMH will use the funding to implement programs to reduce the prevalence of oral disease in both pregnant women and infants most at risk for disease. Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease in America. It can harm a child’s performance in school, it can cause other health problems, and, it can be deadly.
“We have made great strides increasing awareness and making children’s dental care more accessible across Maryland. But until we reach every child and ensure that every family can access the essential oral care they need, our job is incomplete,” said Senator Cardin, who has championed children’s dental health care from first being guaranteed in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and later expanded in the Affordable Care Act. “We know that low-income families face a myriad of obstacles in obtaining the most basic of oral care — eighty percent of dental disease in children is concentrated in 25 percent of the population. These federal dollars will help ensure more Maryland children can live a life free of chronic dental diseases.”
“In the United States of America, we shouldn’t lose kids because they don’t have access to a dentist,” Senator Mikulski said. “These federal dollars will ensure that some of our most vulnerable populations have access to the life-saving dental care they need. Deamonte Driver died because he didn’t have access to dental care. This did not happen in some foreign country, it happened in Maryland. The way we honor his memory is to ensure that no child ever dies of a curable tooth infection ever again.”
Specifically, the grant will help the MDHMH employ multiple strategies to improve the oral health literacy and awareness of low-income pregnant women. Currently, pregnant women in Maryland under-utilize their Medicaid Dental Benefit, as such, this grant seeks to encourage care practitioner groups to increase oral health care utilization for mothers and their children throughout their lifespans. The grant will help increase the use of preventive dental care and seek to connect care providers with young patients by their first birthday. By linking the delivery of oral health with primary care, the overall well-being of pregnant women and infants will be improved.
In 2007, Senator Cardin and Mikulski began fighting to ensure all children could access quality dental care after Deamonte Driver, a 12-year old boy from Prince George’s County, Md., died from complications following an impacted tooth that should have been addressed by basic dental coverage. Senator Cardin led the effort in the Senate to ensure that pediatric dental care was added as a guaranteed benefit in the CHIP program when it was reauthorized in 2009 and then included as an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act. As the Vice-Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski fights each year to increase federal funding for programs to improve health outcomes for all Americans.