Dental hygienists and policy experts gathered at Charles Hadley Park on Tuesday evening to discuss the importance of oral health equity and its impact on Miami-Dade County’s economy and social climate.
“There is no coincidence that the availability of doctors is prevalent in certain communities and in other communities it isn’t,” said Nina Thompkins, the community health director of Catalyst Miami, a non-profit focused on local development that put together the event.
In front of the park was a Colgate Mobile Dental Van offering hygiene education and free screenings for children 12-years-old and under.
Toothaches are the number one reason Florida children miss school, according to the Florida Dental Association.
“If I don’t catch these kids early and teach them the importance of taking care of their teeth, then we will be talking about extractions, dentures, partials,” said Chelsie Purcell, representing the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, a federally qualified healthcare center. “We don’t want to see that.”
The biggest challenge right now for oral health equity is the absence of data, especially data focused on minorities.
“If there is no data, there is no problem,” said Roderick King, CEO of the Florida Institute for Health Innovation.
He recommended mandating oral health exams, teeth sealing programs and partnering dental hygienists with pediatricians, a solution he is currently working on developing.
However, some solutions that have reached legislators have been rejected. This includes one proposal that aimed to place dentists in low-income communities in return for help on their student loans.
Much of the discussion turned to Medicaid, which covers low-income communities but does not give enough incentives to professionals to practice in those communities.
“We need to vote for people who care about our oral health,” said Santra Denis, vice president of prosperity for Catalyst Miami.