9% of California kids have never seen a dentist
PALO ALTO, California – Nine percent of children ages 2 to 11 in 2013-14 had never had a dental visit, according to data from the California Health Interview Survey.
The Length of Time Since Last Dental Visit for kids in California survey comes on the heels of the Little Hoover Commission’s scathing report on Denti-Cal, the dental health care program for 13 million low-income Californians.
Counties with the highest percent of young children who had never visited a dentist were San Joaquin County at 28 percent, Shasta County at 19 percent and Fresno County at 18 percent.
In over 12 additional counties, at least 10 percent of children hadn’t visited a dentist, including Santa Clara County, Sacramento County and Los Angeles County.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children ages 6 to 18. Untreated dental problems, such as cavities and gum disease, can affect a child’s health and quality of life by causing pain, nutritional and sleep problems, impaired concentration and increased school absences, as well as lost work hours for parents.
If dental disease is not treated early, it can result in more serious and expensive intervention later on.
Tooth decay and other oral diseases disproportionately affect low-income children, children of color, and uninsured children. For this reason, the federal government has set a public health goal focused on improving access to preventive dental services for low-income children.
The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes dental health care for children in the essential health benefits that must be covered by all qualified health insurance plans, a major step forward in ensuring access to oral health care for children.
According to experts, policy options that could influence children’s dental health include: increasing reimbursement rates for dental providers under public insurance programs; creating incentives for them to treat low-income children; increasing the number of pediatric dentists where Medi-Cal patients live; setting pediatric dental benefits under ACA at affordable rates to allow low-income families to access the services; reinstating state support for children’s dental disease prevention; and ensuring that all communities have fluoridated drinking water, as evidence suggests that it reduces cavities among children.
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