There is currently a "window of opportunity" to provide free dental care for children and perhaps other needy groups, due to simultaneous support from the finance minister, the deputy health minister, volunteer organizations and dental medicine academics, according to a consensus at a Jerusalem conference Tuesday. Such an opportunity has not occurred since at least 1994, when the National Health Insurance Bill included the first plans ever for children's dental coverage. However, those were taken out due to Finance Ministry opposition. Tuesday's conference on volunteer efforts to solve the problem of the lack of dental care for special populations was held at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine and was organized by Prof. Jonathan Mann, head of its community dentistry department. It brought together representatives from a variety of volunteer organizations dedicated to the dental health of the young, the old and other groups that cannot afford to take care of their teeth and gums. Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman - who last week told the public committee that will recommend how to expand the 2010 basket of health services that it should include dental treatment for children - said at the conference that he was "glad to have put dental care on the public agenda. I know the problems and arguments. We are studying the matter and are not decided yet about funding and who will provide services." Hinting at opposition by private dentists who worry that health fund dentists will be assigned to treat children, Litzman said there was "plenty of work for all dentists to do. Perhaps instead of earning more from fewer patients, they will earn the same or more by treating more patients." On Monday, Mann spoke to President Shimon Peres, who granted his patronage for the conference, sent a Beit Hanassi representative and said he would hold discussions on dental care for the needy. Nearly 70 percent of the lowest socioeconomic groups do not provide dental care for their children, according to studies. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said he knew there were people unable to hold down a job because they suffered from dental disease. "Due to the lack of teeth, they can't eat properly and are malnourished. They lack the self-confidence needed to get and hold a job. If you deal with this problem of dental care, you ameliorate a whole chain of social problems," said Herzog. "This can have a critical influence on social welfare. There are some elderly, especially Holocaust survivors, who are eligible for dental care but don't get it because they are unaware of it." One of these dental care providers for the needy is businessman Ilan Ben-Dov, who recently took control of the Partner (Orange) cellphone company and set up the Lotus fund, which provides a wide variety of services to the sick, the old, the young and the troubled. "Populations that are weak have very little awareness about dental health," said Ben-Dov. "Children from well-off families learn about brushing their teeth and a healthful diet, but for those who struggle to survive each day, dental care is a low priority." A Health Page feature on the dental care conference will appear on Sunday, October 4.