Legislature considers bill that gives a reason to smile

For some people, it’s the menacing whir of a drill, maybe coming from the other room.

For others, it’s anxiety about not taking care of themselves before the visit or fear of a painful experience.

For about 12 percent of the population, going to the dentist causes severe anxiety, so much so that they will put off a visit until they have a serious problem.

At least one dental website suggests maybe thinking about a joke and sharing it with the dentist when you sit down in the chair might help. Let’s see:

What are the seven scariest words in the English language? The dentist is ready to see you.

But for thousands of Maine people, it’s not fear that keeps them away from the dentist or getting the dental care that they need. It’s a lack of insurance, and that’s no joke.

Dr. Sagar Madugula and his staff see patients at Aspen Dental’s Mouth Mobile, which is part of the company’s Healthy Mouth Movement, providing free dental care to veterans, in Pioneer Square on April 3, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Images for Aspen Dental)

This week, the Maine Legislature will begin consideration of LD 1453, An Act to Improve Dental Health for Maine Children and Adults with Low Incomes. The title pretty much sums up what the bill does.

It would add adult dental care to the list of services covered under the Medicaid program and create an incentive to encourage more dentists to accept that type of insurance coverage.

A young boy once asked his father, “Should I be a heart surgeon or a dentist?” The father responded, “You should be a dentist. We have one heart and 32 teeth.”

Maine is one of just 13 states that doesn’t cover non-emergency dental care as part of the Medicaid program. To get care, people on Medicaid have to wait until they have a serious problem that requires a trip to the emergency room.

Small problems become big problems and costs explode.

In fact, a study by the Muskie School from 2010 found dental disease to be the leading cause of trips to the emergency room for adults on Medicaid and for young adults who lacked any health insurance coverage.

We brush our teeth at night so that we can keep our teeth. Why do we brush our teeth in the morning? We brush our teeth in the morning to keep our friends.

The impact of having access to comprehensive dental cares goes much further than oral health or keeping your friends. It also impacts a person’s ability to get a job.

According to the American Dental Association, one in three Mainers report that the poor condition of their teeth make interviewing for work far more difficult. And nearly half of low-income Mainers say that they avoid smiling because they haven’t gotten the dental care that they need.

What did the tooth say to the dentist as she was leaving the office? Please fill me in tomorrow.

No one should be afraid to laugh at that joke because of anxiety about the health of their mouth and teeth. They shouldn’t laugh because it isn’t funny.

Two years ago, the National Association of Dental Plans released research showing that people with access to quality, preventative dental care through Medicaid were healthier overall and ultimately cost fewer dollars to cover. Translation: They were leading longer, healthier lives.

Our bodies don’t stop at our lips and neither should our health care.

For me and my family, dental care is something that we take for granted – even if we aren’t as diligent as we should be about going. It’s a regular part of our health care, just like an annual check up or life-saving vaccinations.

We shouldn’t draw artificial and arbitrary distinctions on the type of health care Mainer’s who are covered through Medicaid can receive. In the long run, it has a negative impact on people’s health and drives up the cost of care for everyone.

Time, for one more joke?

What do you call a great idea in the Legislature? Lonely.

Providing dental care through Medicaid is a great idea. Passing it would be something to really smile about.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.