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Health

Governor's budget proposal earns smiles from dentists

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Thousands of Michiganders will have something to smile about if Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal, which takes steps to improve access to dental care, passes through the Legislature.

Snyder wants to expand the state's Healthy Kids Dental program to the three most populous counties in the state - Oakland, Wayne and Kent - for children up to age 8.

Pediatric dentist Martin Makowski, president of the Michigan Dental Association, said children who can't see a dentist regularly stand to lose a lot more than just teeth.

"There are a lot of days missed at school, children are hospitalized for it, there's been deaths associated with dental infections," he said, "so it's a terrible chronic disease."

Healthy Kids Dental already is available to more than a half million children receiving Medicaid in the state's other 80 counties. Given the current budget crunch, critics question whether this is the right time for an expansion, but Makowski said the program has proved that treating dental issues early saves money by keeping more children out of emergency rooms and in school.

While the state's expanded Medicaid program, Healthy Michigan, includes enhanced dental benefits, Snyder also is earmarking funds to boost health-care provider payments to get more dentists to accept traditional Medicaid. Makowski said he feels that, too, is an investment with a high payoff.

"It'll cost the state about $8 million and then the federal government puts in the other two-thirds," he said. "But we're hoping to add another 600,000 low-income adults into that program."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year because of oral health problems or dental visits.