Healthy teeth and gums aren't a luxury -- they're essential to our overall health and to reducing the cost of our healthcare system as a whole.
We're fortunate to live in one of America's healthiest states, but there are still too many Vermonters with oral health challenges. For example, more than a quarter of 5-year-olds have cavities, more than half of adults have some form of gum disease and too many Vermonters are forced to utilize emergency rooms to treat dental conditions.
Vermont must continue to expand access to quality and affordable dental care -- this is the top priority of the Vermont State Dental Society.
Our association of community dentists is working to ensure that dental health, and its relationship to overall individual health and total healthcare costs, is a significant part of Vermont's healthcare reform discussion. In addition, through our Vermont Action for Dental Health plan, we're working to expand access to dental care in schools, nursing homes, and community and federally qualified health centers.
As we work to expand access to care, the Legislature is contemplating a series of changes that could impact dental care in Vermont. We whole-heartedly support some of the proposals under consideration. However, others are concerning and could negatively impact the cost, quality and accessibility of dental healthcare in Vermont.
As we work together through these issues, there are some clear principles that should guide the discussion:
First, Vermonters should have the security and peace of mind that comes with receiving their oral health care from a board certified doctor of dentistry. Doctors of dentistry are trained, and licensed, to ensure safe, appropriate, attention to detail, and comfortable care in their specialized medical practice.
Second, any change the Legislature is considering should be required to demonstrate measurable and lasting improvements in access to, and cost of, care. Vermont should not be a laboratory for policy and advocacy groups who want to experiment with dental healthcare.
Third, new health insurance mandates should provide Vermonters the confidence of knowing their plans will guarantee, in plain language, dental care at a price they can afford and cover the real cost of the care.
Oral healthcare makes people healthier, prevents costly diseases and infections, and reduces the total cost of our healthcare system. That's why Vermont's dentists are advocating for effective reform.
With the right focus, we can ensure Vermonters have access to preventive, restorative, and continuous dental healthcare from a doctor of dentistry when they need it, where they live, and at a price they can afford. That'll be a reason to smile.
Dr. David McLean practices general dentistry and is president of the Vermont State Dental Society. He writes from South Burlington.