Good oral health is critical to children’s ability to grow up healthy and succeed in school and life. Yet, dental disease remains the number one chronic health problem among children. And the numbers are particularly worrisome for our youngest.
Despite the availability of dental care through Medi-Cal, California’s youngest children do not receive the dental care they need. Nearly 1.7 million children aged 0–5 are enrolled in the program and, in 2013, 63 percent did not have a dental visit in the past year. This is unacceptable when we know that early preventive dental care results in better oral health, overall health, and well-being over one’s lifespan. By the time children reach the third grade, 71% have experienced tooth decay.
While there are many roots to this problem, a leading issue is the lack of providers. Many providers are not willing to provide dental care to young children enrolled in Medi-Cal due to low-reimbursement rates. Even those open to serving children often deny services for three-year-old children. And when many younger children do get care, they are not getting appropriate care for their age. Pediatric dentistry encompasses disciplines, techniques, and skills required to meet the unique needs of young children based on their developmental level, including behavior guidance and sedation.
The Children’s Partnership is working with the First 5 Association to ensure full access to dental health care for California’s youngest children. Here are the 123’s for the Legislature and Administration to fix this dental care crisis our 0–5 year olds are facing:
- Invest in the Virtual Dental Home (VDH) to bring dental care to where children are—start by enacting AB 648.
- Provide financial incentives to providers that expand access to essential dental services for the youngest children enrolled in Medi-Cal.
- Ensure the Department of Health Care Services implements the recommendations to increase utilization of dental services identified in the recent state audit of Medi-Cal’s dental program.