Most States Not Making the Grade in Children's Dental Care
According to a new report issued Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States, at least one in five US children go without annual dental care and 44 out of 50 states fail to meet at least six key benchmarks or policies to ensure access to preventive care.
According to Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign, Americans will spend $106 billion this year on treatments such as fillings and root canals that could have been avoided with proper dental care.
The report, called “The Cost of Delay” assessed each state based on eight benchmarks centered around four key areas that would ensure adequate dental healthcare, including school-based sealant programs, community water fluoridation, Medicaid improvements, and innovative work models for dental providers.
Dental sealants are recognized as one of the best preventive strategies for children at high risk for cavities. These clear plastic coatings cost one-third that of a cavity filling. Breaking down barriers to children receiving these sealants is one of the policies that would improve the oral health of many children.
The goal of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign is for 75% of citizens to live in areas where they would receive fluoridated water. The CDC estimates that for every dollar invested in water fluoridation, communities would save $38 in dental treatment costs.
Some dentists do not accept Medicaid patients due to the low reimbursement rates, however the Pew group would like to see this barrier to care removed as well. In 26 states, Medicaid programs reimburse dentists less than 60.5 cents for every dollar billed.
Some rural and low-income areas lack access to a dentist trained in pediatric care. In those communities, the American Dental Association would like to expand access by allowing other medical professionals, such as family medicine doctors or nurses, the ability to provide basic care under the supervision of an offsite dentist. These would be called “Primary Care Dental Providers”.
Of the six states making an “A” grade, South Carolina ranked at the top, meeting seven out of the eight benchmarks set by the agency. The other five at the top are Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.
At the bottom of the rankings was New Jersey, which only met one of the eight standards. The other states making a grade of “F” include Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wyoming.