Fifteen Massachusetts community health centers will receive a total of $5.4 million in federal funding to increase access to integrated oral health care services and improve oral health outcomes for their patients. The support will come from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which released $156 million in funding nationally to a total of 420 health centers in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The funding will enable health centers to expand integrated oral health care services and increase the number of patients served. The awards are expected to increase oral health service capacity through the hiring of approximately 1,600 new dentists, dental hygienists, assistants, aides, and technicians to treat nearly 785,000 new patients.
"Oral health is an important part of our overall physical health and well-being,” said Sylvia M. Burwell, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. “The funding we are awarding will reduce barriers to quality dental care for hundreds of thousands of Americans by bringing new oral health providers to health centers across the country."
Oral health problems can be a sign of illness elsewhere in the body. Additionally, lack of access to preventive and routine dental care for underserved populations can result in dental conditions requiring more costly emergency dental treatment.
"HRSA will continue to explore ways to further integrate oral health services within primary care settings, and increase awareness of the connection between oral health and overall health," said HRSA Acting Administrator Jim Macrae.
In Massachusetts, 37 of the state's 50 community health centers provide dental services to 138,000 patients annually through 53 sites. Nationally, nearly 1,400 health centers operate approximately 9,800 service delivery sites in every U.S. state, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Pacific Basin; these health centers employ more than 170,000 staff who provide care for nearly 23 million patients. In 2014, health centers employed over 3,700 dentists, more than 1,600 dental hygienists, and over 7,400 dental assistants, technicians and aides. They served about 4.7 million dental patients and provided nearly 12 million oral health visits.