According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among American children. And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 25 percent of children ages 5 to 19 who live at or below the federal poverty level have untreated tooth decay. These are some rather sobering statistics, impacting millions of children nationwide.
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program cover dental services for children from low-income families. However, according to the Center for Health Care Strategies, less than half of enrolled children and teens received a preventive dental service last year. And even when children do receive preventive care (fluoride varnish, sealants and cleanings), they can’t always get to the dentist for follow-up care. There are many reasons for this, including parents’ inability to take time off from work, or not having the transportation to get their kids to the dentist.
Although national data has not been tracked on follow-up referrals, the Olathe, Kansas school district did just this in 2009. Of the 339 children treated in school by dental hygiene students, 63 percent were referred to a dentist, and only 11 percent of those referred had their parents contact a dentist’s office to schedule an appointment.
The school district is making great strides to remedy this. They have partnered with the Health Partnership Clinic, a federally qualified health center, to make dental care available to low-income families. This program has dentists providing services directly to students in school. The program started a few years ago with 10 elementary schools, and this year has expanded to 12 elementary schools and 2 high schools. Both the school district and Health Partnership should be applauded for their collaborative efforts in improving children’s oral health in their community.
Interested in improving dental health services in your community? Check out CMS’s Engaging Schools to Support Better Oral Health brief.
InnovaHealth Innovations helps practices meet the future of healthcare. Roberta Kaplan MPH, MA, PA consults with practices ready to implement new strategies and respond to changes in their healthcare environment. To learn more, call us at: 503-341-0593.