Governor Martin O'Malley Kicks Off "Healthy Smiles" Dental Tour
Joins dentists from Deamonte Driver Dental Project, Kool Smiles and other dental providers to highlight the importance of children's dental health
ANNAPOLIS, MD (September 8, 2009) – Governor Martin O’Malley today kicked off the “Healthy Smiles” dental tour and joined dentists and representatives from the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, Kool Smiles™ and a host of other dental providers and representatives to highlight the importance of children’s dental health, and to increase access to quality dental care. Governor O’Malley was also joined today by U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, Mayor Eugene Grant, Superintendent of Prince George’s County Schools William Hite, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers.
“Together, we have resolved to do everything within our power to prevent avoidable tragedies like the loss of Deamonte Driver, who passed away when an untreated toothache last year,” said Governor O’Malley. “That’s why today, we’re announcing the kick off of the ‘Healthy Smiles’ dental tour to promote awareness and highlight the importance of children’s dental health. With partners like the Deamonte Driver Dental Project and Kool Smiles, we can make oral health services available to Medicaid-eligible and uninsured children in Prince George’s County and throughout the region; and reach out to kids just like Deamonte, ensuring that they will not be turned away from routine but potentially life-saving care.”
In response to the untimely death of Deamonte Driver in February 2007, Governor O’Malley, Secretary Colmers and the General Assembly convened a Dental Action Committee in June of 2007 to provide recommendations for Maryland to improve its oral health services. Based upon the Committee’s recommendations, Governor O’Malley put $14 million in the FY09 budget, in state and federal funds, to raise reimbursement rates for dentists treating Medicaid children. The funds target all preventative care and most diagnostic care rates. In addition, Governor O’Malley placed $2 million in his FY09 budget to the Office of Oral Health to initiate and expand dental services in underserved areas in the State, such as the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, and to create a mobile school-based screening and treatment center.
The funds also helped to expand public dental health service programs in Charles and Harford counties in 2008. Additional funds were awarded to Calvert, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Worcester counties to initiate new dental programs.
“In the United States of America, we shouldn’t lose kids because they don’t have access to a dentist,” Senator Mikulski said. “The ‘Healthy Smiles’ program will keep the memory of Deamonte Driver alive by helping kids and adults get the information and dental care they need to stay healthy. I applaud Governor O’Malley for his commitment to promoting and increasing access to dental health care in Maryland. I will continue to fight to put funds in the federal checkbook to support critical programs like these.”
“I am pleased to join Governor O’Malley to kick off the Healthy Smiles dental tour. Deamonte Driver’s story is a shocking wake up call highlighting the failures of our health care system, and we must continue moving forward on all fronts to ensure that from this tragic death we are able to bring life,” Congressman Elijah Cummings said. “In order to truly effect change, we must work together to reach the goal of providing all children access to quality dental care.”
Dental decay is the most prevalent chronic childhood disease in the United States and Maryland – 5 times more common than asthma. In the US, 80% of tooth decay problems found in 20% of children, most of whom are from low-income, poorly educated families. Oral diseases and conditions in children can be consequential to growth, nourishment, function, ability to attend to learning, and self-image. Children who experience dental problems often are in pain which can distract them from learning and playing, and limit their ability to eat and speak.
“We know far too many children suffer with cavities – 30% of all children and over 50% of Head Start children in Maryland,” said John M. Colmers, DHMH Secretary. “Despite these difficult times, Maryland is becoming a model for children's oral health and we'll get there with the help of our partners, the dentists who care and the parents who take advantage of the opportunities they now have to find a dental home for their kids.”
“We are extremely grateful to Governor O’Malley for his transformational leadership and commitment to oral health care for all of Maryland’s children,” Hazel J. Harper, DDS, MPH, a practicing dentist in the District of Columbia and Co-Founder and Deamonte Driver Dental Director, said. “He is dedicated to keeping the memory of Deamonte Driver alive by the Governor’s untiring efforts to turn a tragedy into a positive response to an urgent community need. The Deamonte Driver Dental Project, administered by the Robert T. Freeman Dental Society Foundation, was launched by Governor O’Malley in November 2008 and is devoted to increasing access to dental care for uninsured and underinsured children and their families in Prince George’s County and surrounding communities.”
“Providing kids with a dental home, regardless of parents’ income or socio-economic status, is Kool Smiles’ number one priority,” said Dr. Ashley Nichols of Kool Smiles. “We are therefore honored and excited to be a part of what Governor O’Malley is doing to decrease the hurdles of access to quality oral healthcare. We have great expectations for this new public/private partnership and applaud the governor for his efforts to ensure that every child in the state of Maryland has access to quality dental care.”
The Deamonte Driver Dental Project has support from community partners including the Howard University College of Dentistry, the University of Maryland School of Public Health and Dental School, Morgan State University, local practicing dentists, and many civic organizations and church groups. It is a grassroots endeavor of the Robert T. Freeman Dental Society Foundation, a professional association comprised of African-American dentists from Prince George’s County and Washington, DC, and a partnership between Governor O’Malley, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the Maryland General Assembly.
Kool Smiles™ is a dental company whose mission is to expand access to high quality dental care for underserved communities. Since opening their first office in 2002 in Georgia, Kool Smiles™ has opened offices across the country to expand access to quality dental care. Kool Smilesä comprehensive general dental care is available to children and in most offices, adults. Services include preventative care, diagnostic imaging, and a full range of restorative care including endodontics (root canals).
In addition to the expansion of dental benefits, last year, Governor O’Malley signed into law landmark legislation that expands medical coverage to more than 100,000 uninsured Marylanders, and also signed legislation that provides prescription drug assistance for thousands of Maryland’s seniors, by helping close the coverage gap in the federal government’s Medicare Part D prescription drug program, known as the “donut hole.”
More information about the Dental Action Committee recommendations is available at the DHMH Office of Oral Health website (http://www.fha.state.md.us/oralhealth/).
“Seat Pleasant and Seat Pleasant Elementary School serves as a perfect backdrop to highlight the importance of partnerships and our example in working for the betterment of educational, and healthy outcomes of children,” Mayor Eugene Grant said. “Our City of Excellence appreciates Governor O’Malley for coming to our community and promoting the importance and the need to partner together for the benefit of children.”