Why did the Health Justice Alliance want to engage in this oral health project?

Barriers to oral health pose a significant health threat to low income individuals and families, with sometimes fatal consequences.

Who is providing funding and who manages the grant?

Funding is being provided by the George E. Richmond Foundation to Georgetown University’s Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities. Funding is being managed by the Health Justice Alliance, which works in conjunction with the Harrison Institute for Public Law and the Law Center’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

Which specific issues does the oral health project address?

Oral health care is intimately related to overall health and quality of life. According to the surgeon general report issued by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), multiple studies have shown that poor oral health and periodontal diseases are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bacterial pneumonia, and adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight. As broader understanding of the impact of poor oral health on social function, interaction, intimacy, nutrition, and sleep grows, so too does Georgetown’s interest in research and advocacy efforts to address oral health disparities in Washington, D.C.

The current Richmond Project is specifically addressing the under-utilization of dental services by children with special healthcare needs. Despite over 60% of D.C. children in this category being enrolled in some form of public dental insurance coverage, only 48% of these children received any oral health services in 2015. The utilization rate is below the national average, despite Medicaid coverage rates in D.C. being higher than the national average.

What is the project’s goal and how does it intend to get there?

The oral health project’s goal is to design best practices to increase the utilization of oral health care by families with children who have special needs, because these children are more likely to have special diets, take medications containing high levels of sugar, and have difficulty with oral health hygiene.

To reach these best practices, the project’s team, which includes practicing lawyers and law students, will conduct a national scan of oral health current policies, including providers’ willingness to accept Medicaid and comfort level with providing services to special needs children; families’ access to, and awareness of, transportation services to get to appointments; comprehensiveness of benefits packages; and provider locations and hours.

Who are the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and the Harrison Institute for Public Law?

Housed at Georgetown University Law Center, the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law uses teaching and scholarship to fulfill an integrated approach to using the law to improve public health. These approaches include food and drug law, global health governance, healthcare, health and human rights, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, trade, and investment.

Also situated within the Law Center, the Harrison Institute for Public Law uses education and fellowship to support actors who shape and make public policy, which include legislators, attorneys general, regulatory agencies, and national associations at the local, state, federal, and international levels.