The Hawaiʻi Oral Health Coalition (HOHC) committees continue to meet on a regular basis. Remote capability has been instrumental in ensuring neighbor island voices are at the table.

The HOHC once again prioritized reinstating adult dental benefits for Medicaid enrollees. Although there is strong support for this bill, the Legislature is not considering new appropriation bills due to budget constraints.

HOHC joined the national Policy Summit with the OPEN network (Oral Health Progress and Equity Network) in February and organized Virtual Hill Day. On February 11 HOHC participated in the virtual day and met with congressional staff members from the offices of Senator Schatz, Senator Hirono, and Representative Kahele. Hawaiʻi was well represented with approximately 15 members of the HOHC at each of the meetings.    

Our “ask” focused on national CDC funding for oral health programs in every state.  Currently, 20 out of 50 states are funded for state oral health programs through the CDC. The Hawaiʻi Department of Health does not currently receive this funding and also does not receive any state funding for oral health. CDC funds provide for: (1) statewide oral health surveillance programs, (2) education, awareness, and use of various fluoride treatments, and (3) school-based screening and sealant programs. This program would aim to increase preventative oral health measures and reduce the number of people suffering from oral disease and reduce the number of dental emergencies. 

In addition to requesting CDC funding, reiterating the importance of adult dental benefits for Medicaid enrollees was shared with the congressional offices. Approximately 1 out of 4 Hawaii residents in Hawaiʻi are on Medicaid, and this has increased dramatically since COVID began (over 180,000 adults receive care on Medicaid statewide in 2019).  Oral health is key to overall health and wellness, including combating COVID-19 and promoting employment, economic stability, and social connectedness. Currently, thousands of people in Hawaiʻi face barriers to oral health such as cost of care or lack of oral health coverage. By investing in state oral health programs that address these barriers we can improve oral and overall health, invest in our citizen’s ability to find and keep work, and combat inequities. We will also avoid unnecessary costs that result when oral health problems go untreated.

There have also been recent studies that display the association between oral health and COVID-19.  The following journals describe the benefits of preventative oral health measures in relation to COVID-19. 

  1. Preventative dental visits decrease risk of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (Dentaquest Foundation).
  2. Routine dental care may protect against severe COVID-19-related complications (California Dental Association, December 21, 2020).

We hope you all will continue to advocate with us for improved oral health for our community. If you are not already a member of the HOHC, please join us! Visit hawaiioralhealthcoalition.org and click on “Join Us”. We look forward to seeing you virtually soon. 

With Aloha,
Sonia Gupta