A bipartisan group of lawmakers, dental hygienists, and education leaders met in the Capitol Tuesday to push for House Bill 4223, which would enact dental screenings for all new children starting kindergarten and first grade in Michigan by the 2020-2021 school year.
“Dental health and a child’s success in school are connected,” lead bill sponsor Rep. Scott VanSingel, R-Grand Rapids, said. “Children nationwide miss 51 million hours of school per year due to dental health issues – many of which are preventable. HB 4223 can improve the ability of children to learn and succeed in school, but funding is needed to implement the screenings.”
VanSingel said the bill was three years in the making.
Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, stressed in a statement the importance of dental preventative measures, similar to vision and hearing screenings.
“For decades, children entering kindergarten in Michigan have received vision and hearing screenings to identify health issues that could impede learning,” Hertel said. “Those are preventative, proactive public policy measures that help to maximize a child’s ability to learn. A dental screening would have the same intent and effect.”
Rep. Angela Witwer, D-Delta Township, said that about 37 percent of children ages 6 to 9 have cavities, but that number almost doubles to 69 percent for children living in poverty.
Andrea Cascarilla, on behalf of the Michigan Dental Hygienist Association, said their new support followed the full implementation of the Healthy Kids Dental program, which would cover many of the kids assessed through Medicaid.
Other children could be covered under their parent’s insurance.
“The impact of this program is undebatable,” Witwer said. “With all the obstacles our children face today, preventable dental problems should not be one of them.”
Dr. Margaret Gingrich, president of the Michigan Dental Association, gave an example of a 7-year old patient who missed five days of school due to an abscessed tooth.
VanSingel said that parents could opt out of the screening and that once a screening flagged a child’s dental state, further decisions would be left up to the parents.
“We’re just hoping that the vast majority of the problems that are identified, that there would be some sort of follow-up after that,” VanSingel said.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed the program’s nearly $2 million in funding through the Department of Health and Human Services in 2019, which would have paid for screening uninsured children and for program administration.
Sponsored by a total of 14 Republican and Democrat lawmakers, the bill passed the House on June 20, 2019.
Sen. Curt VanderWall, R-Ludington, told reporters the bill’s only holdup in the Senate was to ensure they can reinstate a supplemental bill, but that he would try to get the bill passed before then.
“As I continue to talk to majority leaders and fellow senators, there is a commonsense goal that we need to get this done,” VanderWall said.