California Gets a ‘C’ in Dental Care

California received a “C” grade for a critical component of children’s oral health, according to a new study released Thursday by Pew Charitable Trusts.

According to the study, California is not adequately ensuring that low-income kids get dental sealants, which have been shown to reduce decay by as much as 80% over two years. Dental sealant programs in schools have reduced tooth decay by an average of 60%. Applying sealant costs about one third of the price of filling cavities, studies show.

“Dental care remains the greatest unmet health need among U.S. children,” according to the study. “Left untreated, dental disease can lead to emergency room visits, hospitalizations and even death.In 2008, children went to the ER more than 215,000 times for preventable dental issues at a cost of more than $104 million.”

Pew researchers said low-income children are particularly vulnerable, with higher rates of tooth decay and more-limited access to care.

“In 2012, more than 4 million children [nationwide] did not receive needed dental care because their families could not afford it,” the study said.

The study used four benchmarks:

  • The extent to which sealant programs are serving high-need schools;
  • Whether hygienists are allowed to place sealants in school programs without a dentist’s prior exam;
  • Whether states collect data and participate in a national database; and
  • The proportion of students receiving sealants across the state.

According to the study, California does participate in the national database, but hasn’t contributed data to it between 2012 and 2014.

Progress in California has been poor, the study said. The goal, according to Pew researchers, is to have 75% of high-need schools adopt sealant programs.

California was at 25% in 2014 — the same percentage it had in 2012.

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