- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

When 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died in February from what began as an untreated toothache, Gov. Martin O’Malley said it was a moment of “personal shame for the people of Maryland.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, on Thursday joined with health care advocates, practitioners and other officials in what they called a celebration, announcing strides made in the name of children’s dental health care in Maryland, including a mobile dental clinic bearing Deamonte’s name.

“There is no way to ever be able to call out the names of the little boys and little girls whose lives will be spared because of the way this tragedy in your son’s life inspired us to come together,” Mr. O’Malley said to the boy’s mother, Alyce Driver.

The boy, of Prince George’s County, died of an untreated infection that spread from a tooth to his brain. His family, who did not have health insurance, was unable to find a dentist who would treat him.

The state-funded mobile office for the county, named the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, will visit nine local schools to screen and treat low-income and underserved children needing dental care. The project will cost $288,000 for its first year of services.

The director of the dental project, Dr. Hazel J. Harper, hopes the new initiative will increase awareness of the link between dental health and general health. She also wants the program to become a model for the nation.

Members of a committee appointed by the governor announced that 90 new dentists in Maryland have signed up to be Medicaid dental providers.

The state devoted $14 million in the fiscal 2009 budget, following recommendations of the committee, to raise reimbursement rates for dentists treating children with Medicaid coverage.

Prior to the change, many dentists would not treat Medicaid patients because compensation rates for care were so low.

At the event, Mr. O’Malley was presented with an award recognizing his personal efforts aimed at improving children’s dental health care, but he was quick to downplay the accolades.

“With all due respect and gratitude for the award, this is not the time to shoot off the confetti canons,” said Mr. O’Malley, adding that 300,000 Maryland children are still waiting to receive the dental care they need.

The day’s most personal announcement came when one official said that Mrs. Driver graduated Wednesday from the dental assistant program at Prince George’s Community College.

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