Durbin Meets with Illinois Pediatric Dentists

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) to discuss addressing the shortage of pediatric dentists across the state, as well as efforts to expand access to dental care forchildren and vulnerable populations.  In Illinois, nearly 50 percent of children are covered by Medicaid, yet only 14 percent of dentists in Illinois treat more than 50 Medicaid patients a year (one per week), according to an investigation that Durbin launched last year probing the largest Medicaid insurance administrators in Illinois.  As a result of these barriers, children covered by Medicaid can face months of waiting for an initial appointment for a dental checkup and cleaning, and a waitlist of up to a year for complex surgeries or interventions.

Durbin also highlighted his efforts to help address dental shortages and recruit more dentists to treat low-income patients in rural and urban areas through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).  The NHSC program provides scholarship and loan repayment awards to dentists, and other providers, who commit to serve in shortage areas.  Durbin secured a historic $1 billion in the American Rescue Plan for the NHSC and Nurse Corps, and is leading Congressional efforts with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to reauthorize and increase mandatory funding for the NHSC.  This Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations package that was released this week includes a short-term extension of NHSC funding through December 31, with an annualized funding level increase of $54 million that was championed by Durbin.

“Dental care is a fundamental part of staying healthy.  It’s imperative that oral health care is easily accessible and adequately funded so that our youngest Illinoisans, regardless of their family’s economic status or where they live, can regularly see a dentist,” said Durbin.  “I know that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists shares my concern and sense of urgency on improving the accessibility of pediatric dentistry.”

A photo of the meeting is available here.

During their meeting, Durbin also spoke about building support for this bipartisan legislation, the Promoting Dental Health Act, which would reauthorize funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Oral Health Program for the next five years. Currently, the Oral Health program receives $20.5 million in annual funding for a range of public health activities to promote oral health.  This funding is allocated to 20 states to prevent cavities, gum disease, and other painful and serious conditions, including by supporting dental education, data collection, school-based sealant care for low-income children, state fluoridation efforts, workforce development, and research into gaps in patient care.  However, Illinois does not currently receive this CDC funding because the program is not adequately funded to serve every state.  Yet in Illinois, 2.8 million residents live in communities with a shortage of dental providers.