Neglected oral health is very costly. Money for preventive dental care is always well spent and deserves the attention of policymakers.

There is a significant public health need for preventive dental care among the special-needs population in Maine, who generally have poor oral health.

Within the Tufts Dental Facilities network in Massachusetts, 88 percent of nearly 5,000 special-needs patients had significant cavities, according to a 2012 Journal of the American Dental Association article. An additional 32 percent had untreated cavities, 80 percent had gum disease leading to tooth loss, and 11 percent had lost all their teeth.

Maine lacks such a network for this vulnerable population. Section 21 (group home) and Section 29 (day program) services should be expanded to include preventive dental care.

Preventive dental care benefits everyone and reduces overall health care costs. A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found it associated with fewer hospital admissions and reduced medical costs (up to 73 percent for various conditions).

It would have avoided the death of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Maryland, who underwent brain surgery and a six-week hospitalization stemming from an abscessed tooth, costing well over $250,000 in 2007 dollars, The Washington Post reported.

After age 21, MaineCare will not pay for preventive dental care unless an individual lives in an intermediate-care facility. Dental procedures under general anesthesia that could have been prevented and ER visits related to dental pain are covered, while prevention is not. Legislation must reverse these wasteful practices.

Poorly constructed policies affect taxpayers on a more personal level. Many Maine residents who lack preventive dental coverage may be unaware that Obamacare leaves out any requirement for adult dental coverage.

Legislators must prioritize preventive dental care for all Maine residents and address fair reimbursement to dental professionals.

Cindy Lynch-McNett