By: Jean Johnson for Dental1
One in four isn’t the greatest statistic when you’re talking about the number of low-income children getting in to see the dentist. But, in an economy that can’t seem to get off the ground, it’s hard for many parents to put dinner on the table let alone find cash for the dentist. And hard-pressed states with budget deficits that have officials wringing their hands, if not grinding their teeth, feel the same way about trying to find funds in their Medicaid programs to cover kids’ teeth. It’s all on the disturbing side, especially when the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says children need to be seen at an early age – normally by their first birthday
| Common Problems in Children's Dental Care:|
Only one in four low-income children are going to see the dentist
Too little too late: many parents aren't aware that children should normally see the dentist by their first birthday
Lack of funds: Medicaid often doesn't cover the basic costs of dental services
Cumbersome red tape when accessing aid
The problem isn’t a new one of course. And to draw attention to the extent to which the lack of dental care plagues individuals in this very vulnerable population, the American Dental Association compiled a first-time-ever report in 2003. Now in 2005, the ADA is back. The association that represents 140,000 dentists has issued a revised second edition. The so-called State Innovations to Improve Dental Access for Low-Income Children: A Compendium, is available here
. There you’ll find a map of the nation only a mouse click away, with particulars on each state’s progress - or lack of it.
In general barriers across the country are fundamentally similar and familiar. The main problem is money. Dentists say that Medicaid often doesn’t even cover the basic costs of their services. Providers also cite other complaints: Cumbersome red tape, tracking kids’ dental care once they begin to use the Medicaid programs, and educating parents and school children about the importance of early and sustained intervention.
“States continue to explore and implement commonsense, market-based reforms to their dental Medicaid programs, with some very promising results,” ADA President Richard Haught, DDS, said. “But much more needs to be done, and the ADA will continue to promote and advocate solutions that ease the burden of untreated dental disease on the nation’s disadvantaged children.”
In short, the ADA says it has seen some progress over the past two years, but more needs to come.
In Oregon, for example, the state Medicaid program has gone from being sued in 1994 for failure to provide “timely or adequate dental care” to low-income children, to innovative partnerships between public and private sectors. In 2002 the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the Oregon Department of Human Services (OHS) a grant to survey the oral health of school children in primary grades. In that same year, the OHS also got a private grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to focus on dental programs serving pregnant women and children under 2 years. Beginning in 1998, Oregon also organized an Early Childhood Cavities Prevention Coalition that has tried to amp up education, communication, and most of all, treatment for disadvantaged kids.
In this way, while cash-strapped Oregon isn’t a leader, the state is still trying to come to the table and meet the ADA’s concerns. Whether Oregon and the other states manage to fill the bill, though, is something those it serves will be fully aware of as they age. Twenty and 30 and 40 years from now, today’s youngsters will bear testimony to the record as surely as they brush their teeth - or put their dentures up to soak for the night.