ANN ARBOR, Mich.- As the nation begins to focus its attention on the prospects of major health care reforms, one important aspect of health must not be overlooked - access to affordable dental care for children. If left untreated, tooth decay in childhood can lead to lifelong tooth and gum problems, hospitalizations and emergency room visits, delayed physical development and loss of school days.
A new report released today reveals that nearly 12 million children in the United States experience serious barriers to getting much needed dental care due to lack of insurance coverage, cost of care and difficulty finding providers who accept their insurance.
"In this poll, we wanted to understand the patterns of dental care for children," says Matthew Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P.
, director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. "We asked parents how they access dental health services: whether they had problems accessing services, how often they took their children to the dentist, and whether they experienced barriers to receiving that care."
The poll found that 57 percent of parents say their children began going to the dentist by age 3, and that 82 percent receive regular dental care, defined by going to the dentist at least once per year.
"When we looked at factors associated with not getting regular dental care," Davis says, "one factor that leapt out at us was being uninsured for dental care. We found that while overall, 18 percent of all kids did not get regular dental care, for children without coverage, over 40 percent did not get regular dental care."
The report also shows that cost was a major concern for parents seeking dental health care for their children. For uninsured children, when out-of-pocket costs were more than $25, only 78 percent received regular dental care as compared to 92 percent of children receiving care when visits cost $25 or less.
In addition, for 14 percent of parents whose children have public health insurance, parents reported difficulty finding a dentist who accepts their insurance, compared to only 8 percent for privately insured children.
The National Poll on Children's Health also finds:
- 16 percent of children have no dental insurance coverage.
- Only 58 percent of children with no dental insurance receive dental care.
- Children with no dental health coverage are 3 to 4 times more likely to have no regular dental care when compared with children on private or public dental health insurance.
- 12 percent of parents have not obtained the dental care they thought their children needed. Of those children, 9 percent have private insurance, 13 percent have public insurance, and 22 percent are children without insurance.
- Nearly one quarter of parents report "costs too much" as a big problem in getting dental care for their children.
- 13 percent of parents report their "child doesn't like going to the dentist" is a big problem in getting dental care for their children.
"The good news is that over 80 percent of children are getting regular dental care and that only 16 percent of children have no dental coverage. These numbers are better than expected based on other national numbers from past years. The bad news in terms of children's oral health is that we still have big gaps when it comes to kids without dental insurance getting the care they need," Davis says.
For its report, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health used data from a national online survey conducted in August 2008 in collaboration with Knowledge Networks, Inc. The survey was administered to a random sample of 2,245 adults, ages 18 and older, who are a part of Knowledge Network's online KnowledgePanel®
For this analysis, a subset of parents with children age 3-17 years was used (n=1,608). The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect U.S. population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2 to 7 percentage points, depending on the question. .
The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.
Written by Jessica Soulliere