US Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced a bill to expand dental coverage and improve oral healthcare for women during pregnancy and after delivery.
The Oral Health for Moms Act would require Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover dental healthcare for pregnant and postpartum women. It would ensure that pregnant and postpartum women getting their coverage through health insurance marketplaces were eligible for dental care by making oral health services an essential health benefit.
Pregnancy-related dental coverage is optional in state Medicaid programs, which means dental care is often unaffordable for many expectant families, the Senators said.
“Pregnant women are at higher risk for serious dental problems like gum disease, which can lead to pregnancy complications like premature birth. This is why dental care should be an important part of prenatal care,” said Stabenow.
“Unfortunately, dental care is not affordable for so many pregnant women in the United States, especially Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous women. The Oral Health for Moms Act would make dental care more affordable and address these disparities,” Stabenow said.
“The US has made great strides in expanding and enhancing oral health coverage for children, but we must start sooner and provide this coverage to pregnant and postpartum women,” said Cardin.
“We know there is no health without oral health, and we know that tooth decay and oral health problems disproportionately impact mothers and families from at-risk communities. The Oral Health for Moms Act addresses disparities in oral healthcare by expanding coverage to pregnant women and moms worldwide,” Cardin said.
“Oral health is an important part of a pregnant person’s overall health and well-being,” said Booker. “It is essential that as we work to address the maternal mortality crisis in America, a crisis that puts Black and Indigenous women especially at risk, we are also addressing the need to expand access to oral healthcare for pregnant and postpartum people. This legislation takes a vital step in addressing expanding moms’ access to oral healthcare.”
Good dental care or oral health is important to a healthy pregnancy and to giving newborns a strong start, the senators said. Mothers who have problems with their teeth or gums are at a greater risk for health complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, low birth weight, and depression.
Good oral health during pregnancy also can impact a child’s future dental health, because oral bacteria can be transferred from a mother to her child after birth. Children are three times more likely to develop dental disease if their mother did not receive dental care during pregnancy.
The Oral Health for Moms Act would:
- Require coverage of oral healthcare for pregnant and postpartum women enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, including diagnostic and preventive care, basic dental services, major dental services, and emergency dental care, among other services
- Establish quality measures for maternal oral health, focusing on utilization, availability, and screening
- Include oral health services for pregnant and postpartum women as an essential health benefit in the health insurance marketplaces and the individual and small group markets nationwide
- Provide grants to Federally Qualified Health Centers to provide dental services
- Direct the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission to develop a report on issues related to maternal oral healthcare access
- Create an oral health initiative through the Indian Health Service to improve oral health and address barriers to care for American Indian and Alaskan Native populations
- Require a perinatal oral health outreach and education program to provide interactive oral health education and information on oral health coverage, as well as refer pregnant individuals to oral health services
- Provide training grants to improve availability of care and its outcomes and to integrate dental care into maternal health settings
The Oral Health for Moms Act is supported by Families USA, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Community Catalyst, the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, the First Focus Campaign for Children, and March of Dimes.
“Families USA is pleased to support the Oral Health for Moms Act as oral health is essential to the health and well-being of pregnant women, new mothers, and their babies,” said Melissa Burroughs, associate director of the Oral Health Campaign at Families USA.
“The pandemic and economic downturn has put oral health coverage and oral healthcare even further out of reach for many who already struggle to afford it. This bill is a critical step toward improving oral health at a time when it’s needed most,” Burroughs said.
“We are pleased to support the Oral Health for Moms Act that will require coverage of oral healthcare for pregnant and postpartum women enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, fund Community Health Centers so they can deliver oral health services through the Indian Health Services to American Indians and Alaskan Native populations,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children.
“These steps, along with several others in the bill, will help improve the oral health of pregnant women and new mothers as well as the oral health of their children. This bill is a critical step in the right direction,” said Lesley.
“Oral health is connected to physical and mental health and is important throughout the lifespan, especially during pregnancy, when physiologic changes may impact oral health,” said Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, chief executive officer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
“One of the biggest barriers to access to oral healthcare during pregnancy is the lack of coverage, especially for those covered by Medicaid and CHIP. The Oral Health for Moms Act would increase oral health coverage for pregnant and postpartum individuals and help eliminate health inequities while also supporting education and training for clinicians. ACOG thanks Senator Stabenow for her leadership and is proud to support this bill,” said Phipps.
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