Study: 1 in 5 children go without dental care but Maryland improving
Nationwide, about 17 million low-income children go without dental care each year, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. But Maryland is among the states recognized for its efforts to improve that problem.
Maryland was one of just six states that received an "A" grade on the report.
The study discusses how Maryland went from receiving national attention for a 2007 case in which a 12-year-old boy died after an abscessed tooth infection spread to his brain, to becoming a leader in dental care access for poor children.
States like Maryland which scored well made changes to their Medicaid structure to encourage more dentists to provide care to low-income kids and worked to increase the number of dental providers overall. In 2008, Maryland made a $7 million investment in reimbursement rates and added 200 new providers the same year, according to the study.
Elsewhere, poor children are suffering because of a lack of basic dental checkups. Often they are covered by Medicaid or eligible for it, but few dentists accept the government insurance because its reimbursement rates are lower than private coverage. In some places, there simply aren't enough dental providers to begin with.
The consequences are more than just a nagging cavity, the report insists. Oral infections can be serious and lasting and impact a child's overall health, resulting in days lost at school and poor academic performance, the report states.
And the study's authors make this interesting observation: Twice as many Americans lack dental coverage than health care insurance. And yet, dental care has been largely absent from the health reform debate.
Baltimore Sun photo
Unlike so many of America’s other health care problems, the challenge of ensuring disadvantaged children’s dental health and access to care is one that can be overcome. There are a variety of solutions, they can be achieved at relatively little cost, and the return on investment for children and taxpayers will be significant.