More Pennsylvania children enrolled in Medicaid are getting dental care than before, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia say.
Although all children enrolled in Medicaid have access to teeth cleanings and checkups, only about 40% of eligible children actually received care annually prior to 2005. “Somehow, a high number of kids don’t make it; they don’t get the care they need,” pediatrician Katherine Yun explained to NBC Philadelphia Dec. 16
But between 2005 and 2010, that percentage rose to 55%, according to a recent review of state records.
The improvement was even more dramatic among Latino children; 63% of Latino kids between the age of five and 10 received preventive dental care in 2010, up from just 35 percent in 2005. Racial minorities and children from poor households are more likely to get dental cavities, Yun explained, so this is an important gain.
There are probably multiple factors at play in the increase, but Yun noted that over the last few years, she’s seen more healthcare providers willing to accept Medicaid insurance.
Integrated Dental Health
Yun said another reason for the uptick may be that social services and schools have placed more emphasis on how dental health contributes to general health.
“For example, for a child to enroll in Head Start, they need to go see a dentist,” Yun said. Some elementary schools also arrange for on-site checkups by dental professionals.
Often, people make the mistake of assuming that dental care matters less for children, particularly before they lose their baby teeth. But healthy baby teeth preserve dental health for when adult teeth grow in, and children and adolescents are at serious risk for dental decay that can lead not to only tooth loss, but a series of interconnected health concerns later in life.
Tooth decay is currently the most common chronic health concern for children in the United States.
As in all medical fields, new technology is constantly improving the techniques dentists can offer to their patients.
Some dental practices are moving their patient files to the cloud in a shift consistent with a general movement toward electronic health records. Medical robots are being used to decrease the time a patient must spend in the dentist’s chair getting a crown put in place.
Dental implants are providing more reliable ways to secure false teeth and prevent bone loss due to missing teeth. In the current population, 31.3% of seniors over 75 have no remaining teeth at all.
The hope, of course, is that today’s children won’t have those same dental problems when they are seniors. But the first step is getting children to the dentist for regular cleanings at a young age — all the advanced technology in the world can’t replace a simple cleaning and checkup.
Yun cautioned that the recent improvement shouldn’t be seen as a justification for complacency: Less than 60% of eligible children in Pennsylvania, she reminded the public, are getting even basic dental care.