The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded sixteen of Florida’s Community Health Centers $4.6 million in one-time supplemental funding for oral health. On Sept.18, The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced that an $85 million federal grant are the first of their kind to solely focus on oral health infrastructure and will enable HRSA-funded health centers to provide new, or enhance existing, oral health services.

“Health centers play a key role in providing access to a comprehensive range of services Americans need to stay healthy, and that includes high-quality oral health care,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Early detection of oral diseases can prevent much more costly health challenges and improve Americans’ health, which is the ultimate goal of President Trump’s vision for our healthcare system. These are the first awards HRSA has ever made solely for health centers’ oral healthcare infrastructure, and they will support better access to oral health services in communities across the country, including underserved urban and rural areas.”

The awards of up to $300,000 each will support physical and organizational infrastructure investments for health centers, such as minor alteration and renovation to modernize existing facilities, purchase and installation of dental and radiology equipment, training and consultation to increase oral health integration, and purchase of mobile dental units to increase access to oral health care in hard-to-reach parts of communities.

Individuals who are low-income or racial or ethnic minorities, pregnant women, older adults, those with special needs, and those who live in rural communities often have a harder time gaining access to a dental provider, and even the basic care they need. According to HRSA’s Health Center Data, patient dental visits at Florida’s Community Health Centers have continually increased over the past three years.

“Oral health services continue to be a priority and these awards will assist community health centers in their efforts to increase access to care in underserved communities throughout Florida. These funds will be used to upgrade equipment, provide more integration between oral health services and primary care at the health centers, and expand service sites across the state”, said Andrew Behrman, President and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers.

Community Health Centers play a critical role in addressing health disparities by providing a comprehensive range of services to rural and underserved communities. These awards will improve the early detection of oral diseases, which are critical to preventing future health issues, and increase access to the quality care all Floridians need to stay healthy.