Obama Wants YOU to Floss: Dental Care and the New Health Bill

How often do we get the president of the United States talking about teeth? Okay, he didn’t say much. But what he said was accurate and perhaps even prophetic.

Dental health care changes are coming with HR 3590, but will they make dental care more affordable and accessible to Americans? What’s he really saying? And what do we make of all of this when we hear this from a man that has not yet quit smoking?

Dentistry is often forgotten in legislation as well as at the dinner table. Dentistry represents such a small percentage of health care dollars spent in the USA that it always flies below the radar when there’s talk of change.

Some employed people have dental insurance via their employers. However, dental insurance is not really by definition true insurance, which protects you against financial loss in case there is a sudden threat to all of your teeth.

All dental insurance plans have a yearly cap of between $500 and $2500. Call it a health benefit then, not insurance.

So how did dentistry fare in the new health care bill? What has changed in the new health plan and is it good for all of us?
Here’s what Obama said at a town hall meeting in Nevada:

“It turns out – this is serious – that dental hygiene is actually very important for keeping your heart healthy. It turns out that heart disease can be triggered when you’ve got gum disease. So everybody floss. Am I right? You got to floss.”

Here’s a break down of the bill:

  • The health reform package will include substantial changes to dental health care which will be directed to low-income families and children.
  • The HR 3590 bill proposes changes which will include a dental benefit for patients under the age of 21. They will receive coverage through the newly-created health insurance exchange.
  • The bill will also encourage and support the work of dental hygienists by recognizing them as primary health care providers. There will be grants for development and further training of hygienists that will allow them to take on a more active role in dental health care. Included is a section that would establish programs and allocate federal monies to develop and expand the dental workforce. The provisions include dental hygienists, dental hygiene students, and dental hygiene education programs as eligible entities for funds. Funding (60 million) will be devoted to education and preventive dentistry aimed at children.
  • No provisions are made for adults. Stand-alone dental plans would be allowed to operate as they do now.
  • The provision accommodates the way the current system is structured in that most medical plans do not include dental benefits and most dental insurance plans are offered separate from medical plans. Grants for programs for school-based health clinics, including those that offer oral health services, will be made available.
  • A number of oral health education and surveillance programs will be funded to improve the public?s understanding of the importance of oral health and collect data on access to oral health services.

If all of this sounds a bit vague and poorly defined, you’re not alone. What the bill says is that your money will be spent on mostly preventative aspects of oral health.

I’m excited about the increase in funding for dental hygienists. They are the ones, in all aspects of health care, both medical and dental, that carry the torch (of prevention) higher than perhaps any other health care professional. For this I say, Good move Barack! His hygienist must be doing a great job.

If you trust the Federal government to implement this successfully, then Obama’s call to floss is truly noble in intent. I will be watching carefully and reporting to you when and how all of this lays out in the future.

In the mean time I’m stepping up my flossing to twice a day just in case the Feds fail. Prevention is the truest form of a safety net, as it is in the hands of every individual. Perhaps that’s what Obama was trying to get across to America when he called Americans to arms with floss in hand.

I’m impressed that the president of our nation has implored us to floss. Would it be too much to ask then, Mr. President, in the true spirit of prevention, and to save this nation some serious dough, for you to lead the nation in the cessation of smoking?

Mark Burhenne DDS

What do you think about how dentistry will fare with the new health bill? Leave a comment below to join the discussion.

About Mark Burhenne DDS

Mark Burhenne DDS

I'm Dr. Mark Burhenne, and I'm a practicing family and sleep medicine dentist. I believe that oral health is at the center of total-body health and well-being. My mission is to be your trusted resource and partner in oral health for a longer, healthier life. Learn More ยป


  1. le raymond says

    I am glad Obama believes in flossing. :-) But how smart are he and Arnold if they still smoke? And what kind of message are they sending to our young people? Good looking, healthy teeth and tobacco don’t go together.

    Thanks Dr. B – this was enlightening.

  2. karin says

    I think it should cover dental restoration,rootcanals, crowns, implants, partials, braces and bridges along with preventive care. There are so many people suffering from bad health because of dental problems, medicaid just pulls all your teeth and will only give you dentures..healthy mouth= healthy eating!and healthy living. Oh and hearing aids too

    • Bazoing says

      I am 72 years old and have very little SS. I cannot possibly pay for a root canal and will soon have to start having my teeth pulled out. I am very productive and my mother was when she was 89. I would like to contribute to the community but a messed up mouth leads to poorer nutrition (especially on minimal income) and poorer health. Can we afford to have people who will live another 20 to 30 years unnecessarily sick.

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