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A New Emphasis on Oral Health

A significant piece of legislation regarding oral health care was recently passed.

A significant piece of legislation regarding oral health care was recently passed. The Action for Dental Health Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 11, 2018. The legislation received rare bipartisan endorsement in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Originally introduced in February 2018, it was co-sponsored by Representatives Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Mike Simpson (R-ID). It passed the House with 90% approval, indicating that members on both sides of the aisle considered the act vital to the health of Americans.

The Action for Dental Health Act promotes essential oral and dental health care services to underserved populations, most notably children and the elderly. It authorizes the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants and collaborate with key stakeholders to develop and implement programs that provide the following: improve oral health education and dental disease prevention; reduce geographic, language, and cultural barriers and other similar barriers in the provision of dental services; establish dental homes for children and adults; reduce the use of emergency departments by individuals who seek dental services more appropriately delivered in dental primary care settings; and facilitate the provision of dental care to nursing home residents.


More specifically, the act authorizes $18 million for oral health promotion and disease prevention programs at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It expands initiatives to enhance oral health education and community-wide dental disease prevention. The act also authorizes $13.9 million for Health Resources and Services Administration Grants to States to Support Oral Health Workforce Activities, which aim to increase access to dental care in underserved communities.

Both Representatives Kelly and Simpson were thrilled by the widespread support of the law. “This bipartisan bill means that more families will have access to oral and dental health care. This increased access to care means that patients will receive early detection and intervention resulting in better outcomes, reduced costs, and improved health,” said Congresswoman Kelly in a statement.1 Congressman Simpson added in the same statement: “Ultimately, the real winners are patients who need improved access to resources to enhance early diagnosis, intervention, and preventive treatments that can stop the progress of oral diseases.”1 Congressman Simpson was a practicing dentist before being elected to Congress, so his past experience likely influenced his sponsorship of the act.

As we turn the page to 2019, our national leaders appear to be turning their attention to improving the public’s oral health. Another step in that direction was the “Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition” report released by the US HHS, Department of the Treasury, and Department of Labor.2 I’ll discuss this report in my February Editor’s Note. Emphasis on oral health at the federal level is long overdue, so it’s extremely encouraging to see such newfound support. Looks like it’s going to be a good year!

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief


  1. Congresswoman Robin Kelly. Action for Dental Health Act Advances to President Trump’s Desk. Available at: Accessed December 17, 2018.
  2. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition. Available at: Accessed December 17, 2018.


From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. January 2019;17(1):6.

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