A bill to improve dental care in underserved communities has passed Congress and awaits the president's signature.

The Action for Dental Health Act, which was introduced by Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., authorizes, through the 2022 fiscal year, programs that give grants to organizations that provide dental care to the poor, fund access to dental care in nursing homes, help pay for water fluoridation and refer people who show up in emergency rooms with dental problems to dentists.

For example, it will fund the Give Kids a Smile events that provide dental care to about 450,000 children a year and the Missions of Mercy events that provide care to people in underserved areas, according to Simpson's office. These programs, and others where dentists provide free or discounted care, cost about $2.6 billion a year.

It passed the House in February. A slightly amended version passed the Senate in October, and the House agreed to this version at the end of November. It had bipartisan support in both chambers, with just 13 "No" votes in the House in February and then passing both the Senate and House by voice vote this fall. It was supported by numerous national dental organizations.

In a statement, Kelly and Simpson thanked each other for their work on the bill.

"Ultimately, the real winners are patients who need improved access to resources to enhance early diagnosis, intervention and preventive treatments which can stop the progress of oral diseases," said Simpson, who is a dentist.

“This bipartisan bill means that more families will have access to oral and dental healthcare," Kelly said. "This increased access to care means that patients will receive early detection and intervention resulting in better outcomes, reduced costs and improved health."

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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