Somewhere in human history we stopped talking about oral health as a function of overall health. We know now that problems anywhere in the body can start with your teeth or gums. The mouth and the body are now separated in how we study and treat them. It’s created a world where having healthy teeth is dictated by much more than someone’s personal responsibility.
Policy makers at all levels in Florida have completely ignored oral health while doing very little to improve the state’s health generally. Opportunities and policies to improve Florida’s oral health aren’t being considered by the one group best positioned to help, the Florida legislature. This failure has created gaps in care and coverage for Floridians like Denise Beeman-Sasiain. She is the President of South Florida Foster & Adoptive Parent Association, but she is also a foster parent of four children enrolled in Medicaid.
Due to a genetic anomaly complicated by cavities, Denise’s son needed oral surgery. The planned surgery was ultimately cancelled because of a complication. Denise tried to reschedule the surgery, but she ran into the very common difficulty of scheduling an appointment. The surgery coordinator let Denise know that her son was required to have his routine dental check-up prior to surgery, and she was subsequently re-directed to another department to make an appointment. It took four attempts by phone after being put on hold for more than 30 minutes at a time for Denise to reach the dental office. Due to a lack of detailed oversight of her son’s condition and the absence of care coordination from the provider team to help expedite her son’s appointment, it took 5 months before Denise and her son could get in for a surgery that was more urgently needed than realized. As a result, the cavities progressed, and her son needed 3 root canals. Denise’s children are covered under Medicaid and several are enrolled in Florida KidCare’s Children’s Medical Services (CMS). Due to the fact that so few providers offer services under those dental plans, using their coverage for dental care has been challenging for the entire family. Medicaid providers are overwhelmed with patients, making it extremely difficult to get a timely appointment. The hour-long drive for Denise’s family to reach the nearest facility that accepts their insurance has been burdensome.
Despite Denise’s diligence and attentiveness as a parent her story shows how far we have to go to improve provider networks and community education about oral health. However, these aren’t the only challenges to accessing dental care facing Florida’s parents and the problems can vary drastically by community.
The first step to improving oral health in Florida is to better understand the problems and barriers to access. Specifically, the Florida Senate Committee on Health Policy should create an oral health subcommittee to regularly evaluate the state of oral health in Florida and to make the necessary policy recommendations.
Good dental health isn’t just about brushing your teeth. Hardworking families like Denise’s deserve a system that works and one they feel empowered to use.