Most Kids on Medicaid Don't Go to the Dentist

Experts worry that budget cuts could make these numbers even worse.

Posted: 06/13/2012 12:15 PM EDT

We all know that we should go to the dentist twice a year. But it's easier said than done especially for those who don't have dental insurance, are underinsured or don't have dentists in their area that accept Medicaid or Medicare (government-issued health insurance).

A new study touches upon these same issues.

According to HealthDay News, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry looked at national Medicaid data and found only 1/3 of children who are on Medicaid see a dentist in a single year. In Nevada, only 12 percent of children on Medicaid saw a dentist, making it the worst, while the best was Washington, D.C., with 48 percent of children accessing dental care.

"This study confirms with actual paid Medicaid claims data that access to dental services for Medicaid-eligible children has increased 16 percent nationally between 2002 and 2007, even though no state has yet reached even 50 percent access," said study co-author Dr. Allen Conan Davis, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry and former chief dental officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Researchers admit that more children are seeing dentists than they did before, but they emphasize more needs to be done to increase these numbers.

So why do children with health insurance have such a hard time accessing care?

Researchers point out that only two percent of Medicaid funding goes to dental care and that may be cut to zero when the government gets done with budget cuts. Too make matters worse, more and more dentists refuse to see patients on Medicare because the government doesn't give them much money back for seeing these patients.

These findings are extremely worrisome, especially given that almost half of all Black children in the U.S. depend on Medicaid for their health insurance. According to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, 37 percent of low-income children ages two to nine have one or more untreated decayed primary teeth, compared to 17.3 percent of children who come from higher income homes. And children of color and low-income children have more cavities than other children. Not getting treatment for decay or seeking preventative care can lead to serious issues such as tooth loss and infections that could lead to death.

To learn more about the importance of oral health among children, go here.


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