LANSING — State Representatives Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti) and Adam F. Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) supported an amendment to the proposed budget taken up by the House today, House Bill 4328, that would have expanded the Healthy Kids Dental into Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties.

“Healthy Kids Dental is a program that’s a proven success, and that’s why the governor recommended expanding it in his budget proposal,” said Driskell, who offered the amendment on the floor. “I’m extremely disappointed that members of the governor’s own party voted down this amendment.”

Healthy Kids Dental is a partnership program between the Michigan Department of Community Health and Delta Dental that has been recognized by the American Dental Association as one of the five national models for improving access to dental care to low-income children. It currently operates in 75 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

“This is a basic quality-of-life issue for low-income children across the state,” Irwin said. “Programs like Healthy Kids Dental should not be restricted to certain counties in Michigan. All children should be able to access basic dental care.”

Studies show that tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease. It affects 25 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5, and 50 percent of children ages 12 to 15. Children with oral health problems can have difficulty eating, sleeping and concentrating in school.

“This is an entirely preventable problem. We have the means to take care of these children,” Rutledge said. “It’s disheartening that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are unwilling to fund such a worthy cause.”

If Healthy Kids Dental were expanded to Ingham, Ottawa and Washtenaw counties, more than 70,000 children would be eligible for the program. In Washtenaw County alone, estimates show that more than 21,000 children would be able to participate.

“Giving children preventive dental care can stop more serious problems down the road, which could result in costly visits to the emergency room,” said Zemke, who offered the same amendment during the committee process. “Funding this program would prevent an even bigger taxpayer burden that results from kids not getting the care they need.”