Low-Income Families Have Trouble Finding Dental Care for Kids

Filed under: In The News

Teeth

Poor families suffer from a lack of good dental care. Credit: paigewatkins, Flickr

When a 12-year-old Maryland boy died from an untreated tooth infection two years ago, it started a bigger discussion about the need to provide dental care to low-income children.

They're still talking -- and children's teeth are still going untreated.

The Associated Press reported that many low-income families can't find dentists who accept Medicaid. Dentists claim they don't get reimbursed enough money from Medicaid to cover their costs. Plus, some dentists told the AP, low-income families have an expensive habit of skipping appointments.

"The bottom line: Children's access to Medicaid dental services has been improving but remains low," Katherine Iritani, health care acting director at the Government Accountability Office, told the AP.

Two years ago, when 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died, only about a third of eligible children were signed up for Medicare dental services, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report last week that shows only moderate increases in participation over the last two years. Iritani told the AP there wasn't enough data to say precisely how many of the nation's 30 million children signed up for Medicaid are seeing a dentist.

"Continued attention and action is necessary to ensure children's access to Medicaid dental services," the report concluded.

A routine tooth extraction might have saved Deamonte's life. But bacteria from an untreated tooth abscess spread to his brain and his family's Medicaid coverage had lapsed.

A subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee began meeting to discuss inadequate dental care among Medicaid recipients. The GAO's report was submitted for the fourth hearing since Driver's death.

"It's a multi-pronged problem -- and I don't say that to get around our responsibilities," Cindy Mann,, the director of the government's Center for Medicaid and State Operations, told the AP. "I say that to say that we're rolling up our sleeves, and it's not a simple solution."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, chairs the subcommittee and told the AP enough is enough. "We're not going to stand by and watch any more little kids die," he said.

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