Sanders sounds alarm on US ‘crisis in dental care’

Sanders sounds alarm on US ‘crisis in dental care’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is warning of a growing U.S. “crisis in dental care,” saying his recently introduced legislation to tackle the problem would expand dental benefits while ultimately saving the government money.

“Any objective look at the reality facing the American people recognizes there is a crisis in dental care in America,” Sanders told The Guardian in an interview published Friday. “Imagine that in the richest country in the world.”

Sanders, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), introduced a bill last week that would expand Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Affairs to provide dental care to more Americans. It would also increase the number of dentists and other staff in rural and under-served areas.

He told The Guardian he’s been working on the dental care issue “for years.”

“It is an issue I think tens of millions of Americans are deeply concerned about, but it really hasn’t quite gotten the media attention it deserves,” he said.

Sanders said he’s heard from constituents who have been turned away from jobs for missing teeth, or who feel like they have to cover their mouths when they laugh.

“Having bad teeth or poor teeth is a badge of poverty,” he said. “It becomes a personal issue, a psychological issue, an economic issue as well.”

During a HELP hearing last week, Sanders said that far too often when people discuss the health care crisis in America, they skip over dental care.

He said dental care is “way too expensive” and many rural Americans don’t have access to a dentist. There is “widespread suffering” that goes unseen because the issue is not talked about enough, Sanders said during the hearing.

In a statement announcing the legislation, Sanders said that very few dentists across the country accept Medicaid, and there’s a lack of transparency in the prices that they charge.

One out of every five senior in America is missing all of their natural teeth, and more than 40 percent of children in America have tooth decay before they reach kindergarten, he said.

Nearly 70 million adults and 8 million children don’t have dental insurance, according to Sanders, and many who do have it skip appointments because they can’t afford it or find their coverage to be inadequate.

Sanders noted that spending money on dental care may help free up other funds for Medicare. Treating periodontal disease for people with chronic heart conditions saves money, up to $27.8 billion annually.

“Dental care is health care and health care must be considered a human right, not a privilege,” Sanders said in the statement.

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