When we think of primary health, dental health is often overlooked. Some even consider it non-essential. With links between oral health and overall health, routine dental care is important throughout life, especially for young children.
Tooth decay (or cavities) can develop with a child’s first tooth. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, “by age 8, more than 50% of children have had a cavity in their primary (baby) teeth.” Even more surprising, cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases among children in the United States. Cavities are four times more common in juveniles than asthma. Yet, tooth decay is preventable.
Who is at Risk?
While we are all subject to tooth decay, oral disease disproportionately affects underserved people, especially children. Children at most risk are from lower socioeconomic families. Barriers to care include low health literacy among caregivers, lack of language proficiency, absence of dental insurance and restricted access based on geography. Yet, few dentists accept Medicaid or provide variable fees for the uninsured.
Nationally, fewer than one-in-four dentists see more than 100 Medicaid-eligible children each year. The Health Policy Institute finds that:
- A little over half of children ages 2 to 18 have private dental benefits
- 38.5% have dental benefits through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program
- 10.3% have no dental benefits at all
The Impact of Untreated Dental Issues
But baby teeth are temporary. While that statement is true, untreated cavities can progress into tooth infection. Infection can spread to the jaw and face, or in extreme cases, the brain. With dental decay and pain, children are three times more likely to miss school. Dental issues can also cause slow development, lower school performance, and cause poor behavior, diminished quality of life, illness and more. Furthermore, lifelong habits are formed at an early age. The earlier a healthy habit is introduced, the more likely it will be followed. Once again, tooth decay is preventable.
Systemic conditions such as diabetes generally first become clear as mouth lesions or other oral problems. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.
Healthcare Network is Making Dental Care Available to All
Healthcare Network has been breaking down barriers to primary health services for our community since 1977. As you might expect, we are committed to making dental care available to all.
As with all of our practices, no one will be denied care based on insurance or income status. In addition to caring for Medicaid patients, we also offer a sliding fee scale that reduces the cost of services for qualified patients.
As a medical and dental home, our staff works with patients and their families to promote overall health and improve access to preventive services. The American Dental Association says, “dentistry is an essential health care service because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.”
Why Making Dental Care Available to All Matters
Why is this important? Overall community health impacts everyone. Community health affects educational achievement, safety, ability to work and financial stability. If neglected, poor community health can lead to more complex and costly problems. These problems can include increased chronic disease, infectious disease and crime.
How can I help? We can all improve health equity for our community by identifying those in need. Daycares, schools, social services and various non-profits interact with families long before a child’s first dental visit. These are opportunities to help families understand the importance of setting up a “dental home” as soon as a child’s first tooth comes in. That will impact their current and future overall health.
About the Author
Dr. Douglas B. Keck, dental director for Healthcare Network, provides comprehensive pediatric dental care at several sites and leads the pediatric dental program at Nichols Community Health Center. To request an appointment, call 239-658-3000.