Home » News » Panel discusses challenges in oral health care

Panel discusses challenges in oral health care

By Heather Graves

DE PERE – It’s often referred to as a “silent epidemic” – one many know nothing about unless they are suffering from it.

Oral health is essential for a person’s overall well-being. Yet, not everyone receives the same degree of dental care.

Oral Health Partnership (OHP), a local nonprofit providing dental services to kids in need in Brown County, welcomed a panel of dental health experts Tuesday, April 30, at St. Norbert College to discuss this very topic.

On hand was Mary Otto, the author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health In America,” which takes a look at the lack of dental care for those living in poverty.

Before writing her book, Otto worked as a journalist at the Washington Post, where she covered health care and poverty.

Otto shared the tragic story of Deamonte Driver, a 15-year-old boy whose tooth abscess went untreated, led to bacteria reaching his brain and eventually killed him.

A child died from an easily detectable and treatable dental condition, Otto said.

Otto was joined by three Wisconsin dental health leaders – Russ Dunkel, state dental director, Wisconsin Department of Health Services; Timothy Kinzel, pediatric dentist and clinical instructor; and Matt Crespin, associate director of the Children’s Health Alliance Wisconsin and Wisconsin’s Seal-A-Smile program.

The panel discussion took place just months after Gov. Tony Evers announced a $43.4 million dental access initiative as part of his 2019-21 biennial budget – which will increase the amount the state currently spends on dental care for children and adults by roughly 20 percent.

Panelists identified the lack of providers that accept patients covered by Medicaid as one of the biggest barriers to good dental care.

The reimbursement rates, roughly 27 percent, don’t cover dentists’ costs. As a result, most providers don’t accept Medicaid patients.

“We need to make people realize that a care shortage does exist,” Kinzel said.

While Wisconsin is among the best in the country when it comes to private dental insurance, it’s at the bottom for public coverage.

Otto said the problem can easily be overlooked by those who have access to private dental benefits.

“Those who are trying to solve (the problem) have never had a problem getting care so they don’t quite understand it,” Otto said.

Changes could be on the horizon, Crespin said, because the governor’s proposed initiatives include increasing reimbursement rates for clinics treating higher numbers of Medicaid patients.

The overall goal of the wide-ranging discussion that attracted several dozen attendees, organizers say, was to address the lack of dental care and further discussion in hopes of sparking solutions.

“There are still a lot of cracks for people to fall through,” Kinzel said.

“There is no one solution,” Dunkel said. “It’s a multiple faceted problem, so it needs a multiple faceted solution”

Facebook Comments
Scroll to Top