Download the Oral Health section of our 2018 Report Card here.
Low-income kids suffer from inadequate access to dental care. While 55 percent of California children (over five million in total) are enrolled in Medi-Cal, fewer than half have received any dental service during the previous year. When children go without preventive oral health care, it can lead to costly problems. Each year, over 25,000 children’s dental-related emergency room visits are likely costing the state millions, and over 500,000 dental-related school absences cost schools $30 million. Managing symptoms of tooth decay is ten times more expensive than providing preventive services. Kids with dental problems also get lower grades, another cost to struggling children and families.
Oral health affects kids’ overall health and academic success.
When oral health problems go untreated, children are at risk for experiencing negative academic, physical, and social-emotional consequences.
While cavities, tooth decay, and associated tooth pain are nearly 100% preventable, poor oral health is one of the leading causes of school absences.
California has the second worst rate in the nation when it comes to oral health problems in elementary aged children.
Little progress has been made to improve oral health outcomes for kids enrolled in Medi-Cal, who make up more than half of California’s kids. The Dental Transformation Initiative, an effort by the California Department of Health Care Services, supports local pilot projects aimed at increasing access to preventive services and creating sustainable systems of care for kids in their communities. Also, a state oral health plan being implemented by local health departments includes the collection and reporting of kindergarteners’ oral health status, which could help improve outcomes.
Pro-Kid® Policy Agenda
California policymakers should ensure all kids have access to timely dental care and should invest in preventive services to treat kids where they are, including screenings in schools and early learning programs that can identify problems and refer kids to dental providers for treatment. Policymakers should also monitor promising local models like data-sharing agreements between a kid’s doctor and dentist, using community health workers to help parents and caregivers make and keep appointments, and using virtual dental homes to bring care to areas where there is limited access.