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Cárdenas Introduces Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act

Oct 15, 2019
Press Release
Directs HRSA to develop oral health literacy campaign targeted towards vulnerable communities

WASHINGTON, DC –Today, Congressmen Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) introduced the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act of 2019 which directs the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop an oral health literacy strategy to reach underserved communities. This bipartisan bill aims to curb the rise in oral disease and related illnesses by providing oral disease prevention education through a 5-year oral health literacy campaign.

“Millions of Americans often neglect their oral health and treat it as a luxury not understanding the long-term effects on their overall physical health,” said Congressman Cárdenas. This is not just a public health issue, it’s an economic one as well. Oral health illness results in tens of millions of lost workdays each year. My bill focuses on educating vulnerable communities that often have higher than average oral health disease. By educating these communities on the importance of dental and oral hygiene, we hope to increase oral disease prevention and overall oral health care.”

“If left untreated, oral disease can result in pain, disfigurement, loss of productivity at school or work, nutrition problems, expensive emergency room use, and even death.  Most of these conditions are preventable with proper oral hygiene.  In this case, it really is true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure.   Last year we appropriated funds to create an oral health literacy program for the participants of targeted programs offered by the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).  This year, I’m pleased to partner with Congressman Tony Cardenas to expand that initiative by sponsoring the bipartisan Oral Health and Literacy Awareness Act.  We can save money in the long run and help program participants avoid pain and suffering through proper education,” said Congressman Bilirakis.   

According to recent findings from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the number of persons who visited a dentist in the past year has gone from 44.5% (2007) to 43.3% (2016). This shows an apparent lack of progress towards the HHS Healthy People 2020 initiative target for this health indicator, which is 49% by 2020.

Illnesses related to oral health result in 6.1 million days of bed disability, 12.7 million days of restricted activity, and 20.5 million lost workdays each year. Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness among school-age youth, affecting roughly 1 in 4 children. In 2012, almost 1 in 5 Americans 65 and older had untreated cavities, and over 40% had gum disease. However, most oral health ailments can be avoided by increasing oral health literacy among all populations, with an emphasis on children to ensure they develop and maintain healthy habits into adulthood. Under the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act, HRSA will be directed to develop strategies that will advise us on the outcomes and effectiveness of targeted oral health literacy campaigns and will help inform future efforts to improve oral health literacy for all Americans.

Congressman Tony Cárdenas is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sits on the Health Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over public health and quarantine; hospital construction; mental health; biomedical research and development; health information technology, privacy, and cybersecurity; public health insurance (Medicare, Medicaid) and private health insurance; medical malpractice and medical malpractice insurance; the regulation of food, drugs, devices, cosmetics, and tobacco (the Food and Drug Administration); drug abuse; the Department of Health and Human Services; the National Institutes of Health; and the Centers for Disease Control.

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