Deamonte Didn’t Have to Die

The other day, I was at CNN’s Washington studio to comment on proposals to improve dental care for the poor following the tragic case of Deamonte Driver, 12, who died in Maryland this week for lack of routine dental care

My case was twofold.  First, having the government throw more money at the problem would just leave even more people with lously access to dental care.  That is true of government programs targeted solely at the poor (read: Medicaid), as well as universal programs such as the U.K.’s National Health Service, described by the New York Times as a “state-financed dental service, which, stretched beyond its limit, no longer serves everyone and no longer even pretends to try.”  Unfortunately, throwing money at the problem is exactly the solution proposed by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), as well as Maryland Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-Calvert County). 

Second, Deamonte might have gotten the care he needed if not for regulations that restrict access to basic dental care for poor families.  As the American Dental Hygienists’ Association notes:

In the greater Washington D.C. area, patients currently do not have direct access to dental hygienists because of restrictive public health policies. In many other states patients are allowed direct access to dental hygienists for preventive procedures, which has been an effective model in increasing access to care.

Those “public health” policies are regulations that define the scope of practice for dental hygienists and require them to work under the supervision of a dentist.  Requiring licensed hygienists to work out of a dentist’s office makes it impossible for them to strike out on their own, providing basic and preventive dental care that is affordable to low-income families. 

Were it not for those “public health” policies, intervention by a dental hygienist could have caught Deamonte’s problem well before it threatened his life.  Even if the hygienist could not have extracted the abscessed tooth, at a minimum she could have bought Deamonte’s family more time to fix the problem.

Something unrelated also happened while I was at CNN, about which I blogged elsewhere.