A striking disparity in dental disease based on income can be seen within low-income children versus children who come from more affluent families. In this country, children, minorities and the elderly are said to have the worst oral health, due in part to a lack of dental insurance. In fact, about 108 million Americans do not have dental insurance, according to “The Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health.”
Recent research findings have linked oral health infections to diabetes, heart and lung disease, stroke and low-birth-weight babies. In the long run, serious dental problems in children can lead to lack of self-esteem, long term stress and depression, and may also interfere with normal, everyday functions, such as eating, breathing, swallowing and speaking.
Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood illness. Children in families living below the poverty levels ($18,850 being the annual income for a family of four), have more severe and untreated tooth decay.
Publicly Funded Programs Are Falling Behind
Reports state that children from low-income families without dental insurance are three times more likely to have dental needs than children with either public or private insurance. Uninsured children are 2.5 times less likely than insured children to receive dental care, and for each child without medical insurance, there are at least 2.6 children without dental insurance. Simply put, having medical insurance with dental benefits greatly influences whether consumers seek dental care.
A new program called The State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program is out in an attempt to get kids covered, and though it increases the number of insured children, many still are left without effective dental insurance. Medicaid has tried to fill the gap in providing dental care to low-income children, but not much progress has been made. Less than one in five Medicaid-covered children received a single dental visit, notes a recent, year-long study.
In addition to low-income children and minorities, the elderly are also at risk, due to the fact that when they retire, Medicare does not cover their dental services.
The Health Insurance Association of America, an industry trade group, says it “recognizes the inexorable link that exists between coverage and increased access to dental services, and good oral health.”
Delta Dental Plans Association is a national network of independently operated not-for-profit dental service corporations that provide dental benefits and community-outreach programs. They say oral diseases are a “silent epidemic”. Dr. Roger C. Smith, chairman of Delta Dental's dental policy committee says, “We have the ability to drastically reduce some of our nation's most common dental diseases, like dental cavities and periodontal disease. Legislators, educators, communities, and providers need to work together to focus on this important issue and continue improving our nation's oral health.”
To learn more about dental benefits for low-income children visit The National Conference of State Legislatures.
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