High Barriers to Dental Care Affect 12 Million Kids

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A new report says that serious barriers — including lack of insurance coverage, cost of care, and difficulty finding dentists who accept their insurance — are preventing nearly 12 million children in the United States from getting vital dental care.

Researchers surveyed parents, 57% of whom said their kids started going to the dentist by age 3, with 82% of kids receiving regular dental care (defined as going to the dentist at least once a year).

But the results also showed that:

  • 16% of kids have no dental insurance coverage
  • only 58% of kids without dental insurance receive dental care
  • kids with no dental insurance are three to four times more likely to receive no regular dental care, compared with kids with private or public dental health insurance

As the researchers point out, untreated tooth decay now can lead to lifelong tooth and gum problems, hospitalizations and ER visits, delayed physical development, and missed schooldays.

What This Means to You

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that kids start seeing a dentist by their first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will explain proper brushing and flossing techniques (you need to floss once your baby has two teeth that touch) and conduct a modified exam while your baby sits on your lap.

And remember, good dental care starts at home. Even before a child’s first tooth comes in, run a damp washcloth over the gums daily to help clear away harmful bacteria. You can brush your child’s teeth as they come in with an infant toothbrush, using water without toothpaste.

A pea-sized amount of toothpaste may be used with supervision around age 2 or 3, when kids are able to spit it out.

As your kids grow, they should have routine dental checkups anywhere from once every 3 months to once a year, depending on the dentist's recommendations. Limiting intake of sugary foods and regular brushing and flossing all will help keep kids' teeth healthy.

If you don't have dental insurance for your kids and can't afford the out-of-pocket costs, talk with your doctor or contact your local public health department and ask about other ways of getting dental care for them.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2009

Source: University of Michigan Health System.

Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Dental Association (ADA) The ADA provides information for dental patients and consumers.
OrganizationCenters for Medicare and Medicaid Services This website contains all the information you need to understand your health care.
Web SiteMouthPower This site was created by the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland. Through games and other activities, kids can learn how to take care of their teeth and mouth.
Web SiteHealthy Teeth Produced by dentists, Healthy Teeth is designed for elementary-age students curious about oral health.

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How Do I Care for My Baby's Teeth? Find out what the experts have to say.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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