SC's Healthy Connections program supports oral health

By Rebekah Mathews, contributing writer

December 10, 2014 -- It's not every day that you hear a person rave about the work of the dentist who pulled his teeth. But that's exactly how a patient named Dave felt about the dentist he met at the recent Dental Action Days free care clinic in Rock Hill, SC. Clearly in pain, he was willing to wait in line for hours to see a dentist who extracted damaged teeth and fit him for dentures. It was life-changing. Near tears, he stopped to ask our team of volunteers how he could possibly thank the doctor who worked with him.

Rebekah Mathews
Rebekah Mathews, regional director, DentaQuest South Carolina.

Sadly, his story is far too common. Volunteer dentists and hygienists at the Dental Action Days clinic saw more than 1,400 patients and gave away more than $950,000 in care. If not for these free care clinics, many of these individuals would be seeking help at hospital emergency departments. Between 1.3% and 2.7% of all emergency room visits nationwide that don't result in a hospital admission are dental emergencies, according to a 2010 Health Resources and Services Administration report.

Today, South Carolina is making great progress in caring for the dental health of its citizens. Effective December 1, 2014, the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will implement an adult preventive dental benefit for members age 21 and older who have full benefits under the state's Healthy Connections Medicaid program. Covered services include preventive care, such as cleanings, minor fillings, and x-rays. These are the most common services that can help catch disease early and keep mouths healthy.

Many other patients came to the free clinic in Rock Hill for help with cavities they couldn't afford to get filled. This December, they will be able to get preventive treatment at a participating dentist. This is significant for two reasons: It improves their quality of life, and it keeps them out of the emergency room, leading to future cost savings for the state.

“We salute the state of South Carolina for the bold steps it has taken to ensure all its citizens have the opportunity for good oral health.”

Good oral health is fundamental to a person's overall health. Research shows that serious systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and preterm delivery, are associated with poor oral health. However, many adults in this country lack access to the dental benefits necessary to ensure regular dental checkups.

Policymakers nationwide have made oral health for children a priority -- state Medicaid dental benefits for children are mandatory, and pediatric dental services are an essential benefit in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because of this, most children now have access to dental benefits. However, for low-income adults, there is no such federal requirement, and Medicaid adult dental coverage varies widely from one state to another.

South Carolina's Medicaid adult dental program emphasizes prevention. That's important because dental problems -- cavities and gum disease -- are largely preventable if caught early. Eligible adults can receive up to $750 per fiscal year in dental services to get the restorative care they need and the prevention services they previously lacked. Having dental benefits is a key factor in an individual's ability to live a healthy, successful life. Having good oral health increases access to jobs, improves overall health, leads to better self-esteem, and helps people enjoy their lives.

We salute the state of South Carolina for the bold steps it has taken to ensure all its citizens have the opportunity for good oral health, and we encourage other states to follow suit so that we can eliminate the need for Dental Action Days and other free care clinics -- and stories like Dave's.

Rebekah Mathews is the regional director for DentaQuest South Carolina. DentaQuest manages South Carolina's Healthy Connections Medicaid dental program.

This column first ran in The State, a newspaper in South Carolina. is grateful to DentaQuest and The State for permission to reprint.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2014

To read this and get access to all of the exclusive content on create a free account or sign-in now.

Member Sign In:
MemberID or email address:  
Do you have a password?
No, I want a free membership.
Yes, I have a password:  
Forgot your password?
Sign in using your social networking account:
Sign in using your social networking