Tony Cárdenas, Gus Bilirakis Get ‘Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act’ Through House

At the end of last week, U.S. Reps. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., got their “Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act” through the U.S. House.

Cárdenas, who has championed the proposal in recent years, brought the bill back in July with Bilirakis as a co-sponsor.

“This bill directs the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop an oral health literacy strategy to reach underserved communities. This bipartisan bill aims to curb the rise in oral disease and related illnesses by providing prevention education through a five-year oral health literacy campaign,” Bilirakis’ office noted.

“Millions of Americans often neglect their oral health without understanding the long-term effects on their overall physical health,” said Cárdenas. “This is not just a public health issue, it’s an economic one as well. Oral health illness result in tens of millions of lost workdays each year. Our bill focuses on educating vulnerable communities that often have higher than average oral health disease. By educating them on the importance of dental and oral hygiene, we hope to increase oral disease prevention and overall oral health care.”

The congressmen offered some of their reasons for why the bill is needed.

“According to findings from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), fewer than 49 percent of people used the oral health care system in 2020. Further, only 43.3 percent of children, adolescents and adults visited the dentist in 2016, which is less than the baseline set in 2007 (44.5 percent). Illnesses related to oral health have resulted in 6.1 million days of bed disability, 12.7 million days of restricted activity, and 20.5 million lost workdays each year, significantly impacting children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations. Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness among school-age youth, affecting roughly 1 in 4 children. In 2012, almost 1 in 5 Americans 65 and older had untreated cavities, and over 40 percent had gum disease. However, most oral health ailments can be avoided by increasing oral health literacy among all populations, with an emphasis on children to ensure they develop and maintain healthy habits into adulthood. Under the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act, HRSA will be directed to develop strategies that will advise us on the outcomes and effectiveness of targeted oral health literacy campaigns and will help inform future efforts to improve oral health literacy for all Americans,” Bilirakis’ office noted.

The bill cleared the House on a 369-58 vote with all of the opposition coming from the Republicans ranks including U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Greg Steube and Dan Webster from Florida. U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Bill Posey, R-Fla., did not vote.

“Oral health is a vital component of overall wellness that is too often overlooked. As with many aspects of healthcare, prevention is key to long-term health. Lack of good oral hygiene has been proven to exacerbate chronic health conditions and contributes to costly, yet preventable, emergency care,” said Bilirakis after the vote. “I am proud to be a part of this initiative to raise awareness about the proactive steps that can be taken to improve oral healthcare as I believe it will improve patient outcomes.”

A host of groups are backing the proposal including the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Group Practice, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Periodontology, the American Association of Endodontists, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the American Association of Orthodontists, the American Association of Women Dentists, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Prosthodontists, the American Dental Association, the American Dental Education Association, the American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists, the American Student Dental Association, the Delta Dental Institute, the Hispanic Dental Association and GSK are backing the proposal.

The bill now heads to the full U.S. Senate where, so far, there is no companion measure.

Kevin Derby
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