Study: Kids Can't Improve Their Teeth If They Don't See A Dentist

Jun 25, 2013

Each year, children across the country have a hard time caring for their teeth. A new study says that the problem is made worse because kids can't get in to see a dentist. The report comes from the Pew Children's Dental Campaign and makes two big observations.

First, the nation doesn't have enough dentists. Second, there aren't enough dentists who accept government insurance for the poor -- or Medicaid. "The dental access problem is not a new problem." That's Jane Koppelman, she's the dental campaign's research director. "The news is that it's not getting any better and we're lagging behind in trying to address the problem."

And here's why the problem of bad dental care matters. "Students who have toothaches are four times more likely to have low grade point averages in school that those without dental problems. We've seen that in the research. We know that dental problems cause kids to miss school as they grow older. If they have unattended dental problems, they have problems getting jobs. It's that blunt."

Of all of the states nationwide, Connecticut does pretty well. When it comes to dental shortages, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama fare the worst, with a quarter or more of their population living in an area undeserved by dentists. Connecticut's number is less than 10 percent. But it's worth noting, too, that Connecticut's dentists aren't getting any younger. According to the report, 43 percent of them were over 55 in 2009. "That tells me that Connecticut is going to be facing a provider issue which is going to feed into an access problem."

And if you're poor, the numbers aren't great. She says one in three kids on Medicaid in Connecticut doesn't get dental care. That's because many dentists don't accept Medicaid patients. And in a field where children should see a dentist at least twice a year, Koppelman says there is cause for concern.

You can read the full report at pewstates.org.