The Pew Center on the States (PCS)

Dental hygienists often need information while developing new programs on the "state" of their state – where dental care is concerned.

by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
cnathe@salud.unm.edu

Dental hygienists often need information while developing new programs on the "state" of their state – where dental care is concerned. This month I decided to spotlight an organization that publishes helpful information about the state of dental care in the United States. This organization, commonly referred to as Pew (The Pew Center on the States), is an independent, nonprofit agency. Pew is the sole beneficiary of seven charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.

In fiscal year 2009, Pew invested about $280 million in initiatives to serve the public interest. Pew works to advance state policies that serve the public interest, conduct credible research, bring together diverse perspectives, and analyze states' experiences to determine what does and does not work. Pew works with a variety of partners to identify and advance nonpartisan solutions for pressing problems affecting Americans.

Specifically, the Pew Children's Dental Campaign works to ensure that more children receive dental care and benefit from policies that have proven to prevent tooth decay.

The Pew Children's Dental Campaign works on four efficient and cost-effective solutions:

  • Ensures that Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program translate into real access to needed dental care
  • Expands sealant programs for kids who need them the most
  • Helps expand access to optimally fluoridated water
  • Expands the number of professionals who can provide dental care to low-income children

Pew offers a variety of materials that are helpful to dental hygienists and are available on its Web site at www.pewcenteronthestates.org/dental. They specifically focus on information about dental programs that effectively promote oral health in children so that all children can experience optimum dental health.

Last year, Pew "graded" states on their dental health, and Pew will issue grades again this year by using eight benchmarks that address children's dental health needs. Grades are given from "A" to "F" on policies that include cost effective ways to prevent dental disease, Medicaid improvements, innovative workforce models that help supply demands, and data collection of dental health status.

The eight benchmarks are:

  • State has sealant programs in place in at least 25% of high-risk schools
  • State does not require a dentist's exam before a hygienist sees a child in a school sealant program
  • State provides optimally fluoridated water to at least 75% of citizens on community systems
  • State meets or exceeds the national average of children ages one to 18 on Medicaid who are receiving dental services
  • State pays dentists who serve Medicaid-enrolled children at least the national average of Medicaid rates as a percentage of the dentists' median fees
  • State Medicaid program reimburses medical care providers for preventive dental health services
  • State has authorized a new primary care dental provider
  • State submits basic screenings data to the national database

Pew is a great example of an organization that is reaching out to improve dental care for underserved populations. Dental hygienists should partner and use these types of resources to help effectively develop public health programs. Pew's Web site has research and resources of interest to dental hygienists, including its recently released report called, "It Takes a Team: How New Dental Providers Can Benefit Patients and Practices."

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health Research" (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its third edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at cnathe@salud.unm.edu or (505) 272-8147.

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