A new report from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Center on the States found that despite efforts nationally to improve dental health for children, more than 16 million U.S. youngsters don’t have access to regular dental care.
However, many states received higher grades by Pew in 2011 compared to the previous year in spite of budget shortfalls. The report, entitled “The State of Children’s Dental Health: Making Coverage Matter,” includes public policies that cover both insured and soon-to-be insured children.
The news source found that many children don’t receive the dental healthcare they need because of a shortage of dentists who are willing to serve low-income patients with Medicaid as their insurer. Pew recommends that officials increase payment levels to dentists for Medicaid patients because the federal insurance program has not kept pace with their fees.
The Pew study found that 27 states were graded as A or B, while 23 states and the District of Columbia earned only a C or lower grade for their dental services. However, 22 states improved their grades compared to the 2010 report and six states – Arkansas, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah and West Virginia – increased their ratings by at least two grades.
States that raised the quality of their services did so mainly by reimbursing dentists for preventative care, expanding water fluoridation in local communities and increasing the number of Medicaid-enrolled children who receive care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Eighteen percent of children ages 2 to 4 have experienced tooth decay, 52 percent of those ages 6 to 8 are affected and 61 percent of 15-year-olds have tooth decay, the CDC reports.
Pew contends that dental problems can impact youngsters’ overall well-being and education in part because underserved children tend to miss more school days than those with regular dental services. In addition, the center’s research showed that more children receive medical insurance to cover ailments than health plans that cover basic dental care.
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