Access to Dental Care, Surgery Limited
Some Fresno County children who needed to be sedated because they cannot sit still for dental work must wait a year or more for treatment because of a decrease in available operating room time for area dentists, the Fresno Bee reports. Such children include those who are very young, have developmental or medical disabilities, or other health problems.
According to Rosemarie Amaral, children's dental coordinator for the county, about 10% of the 510 children seen by dentists at a county mobile health clinic last year needed referrals for dentistry in a hospital setting.
However, last month, time designated for dental surgeries in operating rooms at University Medical Center was reduced from 24 hours per week to four hours per week because of staff shortages. Children's Hospital Central California reduced its pediatric dental surgery hours three years ago to about 22 hours monthly, and Community Regional Medical Center eliminated its program two years ago citing low profitability.
Dentists say the reduced hours have resulted in more children seeking emergency department care for abscessed teeth.
Free-standing dental surgery centers in the region might help to alleviate waiting lists at hospitals. However, hospitals "have little incentive to reserve operating rooms for dentists" because many patients are beneficiaries of Denti-Cal, which reimburses hospitals at a lower rate than private insurance, the Bee reports. Denti-Cal provides dental coverage for low-income California residents and is similar to Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.
Stan Rosenstein, director of Medi-Cal for the Department of Health Services, said hospitals that participate in Medi-Cal must provide operating rooms to dentists if such rooms are provided for medical doctors. Rosenstein added that the program guidelines do not mandate how much time hospitals must provide for dental surgery (Anderson, Fresno Bee, 8/7).
In related news, limited access to dental care in San Luis Obispo County affects 37% of residents who do not have dental insurance and 28,000 residents who have Denti-Cal coverage, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports. According to the Tribune, "nearly all" private dental practices in the county do not accept Denti-Cal because reimbursement rates are inadequate.
Joe Mercardante, dental director at Community Health Centers, said a lack of providers who accept Denti-Cal is the "biggest problem" in providing access to dental care in the county (Arnquist, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 8/6).