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Letter: We need comprehensive oral health plan

September 14, 2018

As dean of the only dental school in Indiana, I appreciated the recent IBJ article [Dental care out of reach for many, Aug. 31] that shed light on the challenges low-income Hoosiers face in accessing dental care. This is a critical and complex issue that deserves real attention. If we are serious about improving the oral health status for all Hoosiers, stakeholders and policymakers must engage to create and fund contemporary solutions. Medicaid reform is one part of the solution to enable more private-practice dentists to provide care to low-income patients; however, Hoosiers should know that low-cost or free services are already available.

I know of many Indiana dentists who donate free care on a regular basis. The Indiana Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy events are large-scale dental clinics at the Indiana State Fairgrounds staffed by volunteer dental teams who give free oral health care to people of all ages. In May 2019, the MOM event will be held in Fort Wayne. While these periodic events are helpful, they are not a long-term solution. We need to formulate a comprehensive Hoosier oral health plan.

At the Indiana University School of Dentistry, where fees are about one-half of private practice for teaching cases accepted into our predoctoral program, we readily accept Medicaid and Medicare for patients who visit our dental clinics.

The dental school also provides limited free or reduced cost care for veterans and victims of domestic abuse. The dental school’s Student Outreach Clinic, a free dental clinic for underserved adults, operates two Saturdays each month as part of the Neighborhood Fellowship Church on the near-east side of Indianapolis.

We also encourage our dental students to practice in dental workforce shortage areas. With support from a recent $1.6 million federal grant, our fourth-year dental students provide dental care under faculty supervision in two-week rotations at community clinics around the state.

Serious solutions to dental care access require that we broaden the conversation to formulate a comprehensive Hoosier oral health plan. The IU School of Dentistry is ready to help.

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John Norton Williams

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