State Fashions New Dental Director Role

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last week appointed California’s first state dental director.

Dental advocates and providers are hoping the move is a sign from the Brown administration that more attention and resources will be devoted to solving dental care issues in California — particularly some of the issues that have plagued the Denti-Cal program.

The California Dental Association, which has been advocating for the position for years, called it “a major achievement for the state’s oral health program.”

Jennifer Kent, director of the California Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal and its dental program known as Denti-Cal, was equally enthusiastic.

“This appointment is an exciting step forward in our continued efforts to improve dental services for our Medi-Cal members,” Kent said.

Jayanth Kumar was appointed by the governor June 5 to serve as dental director under the Department of Public Health. He was most recently dental director at the New York State Department of Public Health. Kent plans to work closely with Kumar, she said, to improve publicly funded dental care in California.

“His strong dental background, especially in public programs, will be an asset to our ongoing work,” Kent said, “and we look forward to working with Dr. Kumar to develop and implement strategies and policies aimed at improving access to dental care and to reduce oral health disparities in California.”

California Dental Association president Walt Weber said it was a big step forward. Kumar had a strong record in New York state, he said.

“New York’s oral health program experienced significant success and is recognized as one of the finest in the nation,” Weber said. “His excellent grasp of the serious challenges our state faces in reducing barriers to dental care … will be a tremendous asset to California.”

Weber said dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease in California, ahead of both asthma and obesity, and one of the biggest reasons for children’s absences at school, he said.

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