By Stephanie Thornton
As we celebrate National Children’s Dental Health month, The Children’s Partnership (TCP) honors the California advocates, policymakers, providers, and families who work to improve the oral health of all children in our state. At the same time, we recognize that families in California are facing a unique set of barriers and opportunities this year when it comes to getting their oral health needs met.
Good oral health is linked to long-term overall health and academic opportunity, but California children, and particularly low-income children, have historically experienced some of the highest rates of tooth decay in the country. Due to increased attention on these inequities, the state significantly increased its investment in children’s oral health, notably through the Dental Transformation Initiative (DTI). Yet there remains more work. As the DTI comes to an end this year, we must ensure we continue the progress we’ve made for children by dedicating adequate funding in the state budget to supporting the oral health of our youngest and most vulnerable children.
For children across California, multiple social determinants, including poverty, level of family education, and immigration status, impact good oral health and equitable access to care. This year, TCP conducted a series of interviews in California’s border region which highlighted the detrimental impact of the current federal administration’ anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy on children’s access to oral health care. As families are forced to choose between accessing necessary health care services and the possibilities of separation or deportation, children in immigrant families go without the care they need.
Ensuring families can access all forms of health care, including oral health, in safe and trusted spaces is a necessary step to improving our children’s oral health. One key strategy in this effort to address the social determinants of oral health is bringing oral health care to children where they are: at their schools, early childhood centers, and community centers. For over a decade, the Virtual Dental Home model has used innovative technology to bring care to children, and operates in multiple counties as part of the DTI’s Local Dental Pilot Projects.
At The Children’s Partnership, we are dedicated to ensuring the Virtual Dental Home continues to serve children and their families, and are excited to sponsor legislation to ensure telehealth programs like it can continue to operate at community sites. AB 2007, recently introduced by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, supports community health centers in bringing care to children where they are to ensure more children have access to the services they need to thrive.
This Children’s Dental Health Month, let’s prioritize solutions that recognize the social determinants of oral health and put oral health equity at the forefront. In 2020, California is poised to advance policy solutions that connect all children–regardless of their zip code, income level, or immigration status–with quality oral health care.