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Hospital Exec: Cavities Could Multiply if Oral Health Care Declines

November 2, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Oral health care was neglected in health care reform and is in danger of reaching even fewer persons in need, according to the head of a New Haven hospital. Whether it's a child needing her teeth cleaned or an adult in agony from a toothache, the Hospital of St. Raphael's "Smiles 2 Go" dental van is a welcome sight when it pulls up to a school or community center.

But hospital CEO Christopher O'Connor recently told an audience in inner-city New Haven that times are getting tougher.

"From a finance perspective, it takes a lot of subsidies to keep it going, so expanding it, I think, is going to be challenging."

O'Connor said that, without greater state or federal reimbursements for dental services, the hospital faces a higher hurdle in providing care. He is promoting collaborations with other providers to expand the care offered.

Reimbursement or payment rates for adults and children range from one third to two thirds of the standard payment for oral health care in the state. O'Connor said oral health care is treated differently than general medical care, and that needs to change.

"Dental work - and again you saw this through health care reform - has been literally ignored, both from a prevention perspective as well as from an overall oral health care perspective."

The dental van sees almost 1,000 patients a year, for whom clinicians provide about 6000 treatments, from cleanings to x-rays to fillings and extractions.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT