California’s Children’s Dental Health Care Crisis Could Worsen
State and national data show California lags in children's dental health care, and rising unemployment and the state's fiscal woes could make the problem worse, the New York Times reports.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
The National Survey of Children's Health found that California children's dental health is the third worst in the country -- ranking higher only than Arizona and Texas.
According to the most recent statewide data, 28% of California children have untreated dental decay by age five. In 2007, more than 500,000 California children between agesÂ five and 17 missed at least one day of school because of dental problems -- costing school districts $29.7 million.
In the San Francisco area, children up to age 17 in 2007 made nearly 1,980 emergency department visits for preventable dental conditions. The average cost of such visits was $172, while the average cost for hospitalization for dental health-related problems was $5,000.
Jared Fine, the dental health administrator at Alameda County Public Health Department, said, "We have an epidemic of dental disease in children that's absurdly pervasive." He said that while California health care experts recognize the need to address dental health in early childhood, such programs are "in their infancy" and lack funding.
The state mandates that new kindergarteners and first graders receive a dental exam. If there is sign of decay, the students are then referred to a dentist. However, Fine notes that there are not enough dentists willing to accept the students
Many children from low-income families qualify for Denti-Cal -- California's dental program through Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. However,Â fewer than half of the 255 pediatric dentists in California participate in the program. Of those California dentists who accept Denti-Cal, two-thirds limit the number of patients they treat because of low reimbursement rates, according to a survey published in Pediatric Dentistry.
Children with family incomes too high to qualify for Denti-Cal often are eligible for Healthy Families, California's Children Health Insurance Program.
As more California residents lose their jobs, they also lose access to employer-sponsored health insurance that often covers children's dental care, the Times reports.
A survey by child advocacy group Children Now found that between November 2007 and February 2009 about 300,000 Californians lost their employer-sponsored health insurance.
In his latest budget proposal, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) proposed cutting $16.5 million to Healthy Families and $523 million from Medi-Cal. According to the Times, the cuts likely would result in additional cases of untreated dental-related conditions (Udesky, New York Times, 5/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.