Dental News & Views
A Monthly E-Memo from the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign
Welcome to the November edition of Dental News & Views. The Pew Children’s Dental Campaign strives for cost-effective policies that will mean millions more children get the basic dental care they need to grow, learn and lead healthy lives.
Dentists: Poor kids will suffer from Florida county’s decision to end fluoridation
Oral health advocates have voiced serious concerns about the potential impact that ending fluoridation will have on poor children in Pinellas County, Fla. The county commission voted 4-3 last month to stop the practice. Disadvantaged children already face severe challenges accessing dental care in Florida. Removing fluoride from the county’s water system will deprive thousands of children of one of the most successful and cost-effective strategies for improving oral health. In a New York Times letter to the editor, the American Dental Association’s president called fluoridation one of the few public health measures that saves more money than it costs. The New York State Medicaid Redesign Team recently added fluoridation to its list of recommendations for reducing health disparities.
Editorial endorses Kansas proposal to expand dental workforce
Legislation in Kansas would address the state’s dentist shortage by creating a new type of professional called a “registered dental practitioner.” The Kansas City Star has endorsed the bill, which would allow these professionals to perform routine procedures under a dentist’s general supervision. The Kansas Dental Association has voiced concerns about the bill, but The Star writes that an Association leader “acknowledged that no research backs up the association’s contention that dental practitioners could compromise patient safety.” In a recent Roll Call column, a dentist who has worked on an Indian reservation in South Dakota calls access to care “a cruel joke” for its residents and also supports expanding the dental workforce. The Pew Children’s Dental Campaign has posted a new FAQ about expanding the dental workforce to improve access.
Safety net clinics in California asked to return dental payments
California’s Department of Health Care Services is asking safety net clinics to pay back substantial sums of money for dental services already rendered. One clinic in San Diego expects to have to repay as much as $850,000. This action is a result of the state’s 2009 budget cuts, when Medi-Cal dental services for adults were eliminated. Several clinics sued the state over the cuts and dental services were briefly reinstated. During that transitional period, many clinics continued to serve patients in need of care. Now these facilities are being asked for refunds. California’s method of reducing Medicaid costs is being challenged in a U.S. Supreme Court case.
Alabama nonprofit dental operation wins praise
Only half of Medicaid-enrolled children get dental services in Alabama. Sarrell Dental, the state’s largest nonprofit dental practice, is aiming to change that. The overwhelming majority of its patients are children who are Medicaid and CHIP-eligible, and the organization anticipates serving 100,000 kids by year’s end. On a recent visit to Sarrell Dental’s headquarters, Heber Simmons, the congressional liaison for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, observed that the nonprofit has demonstrated the viability of serving children on Medicaid. “It’s obvious that it’s working,” Simmons said. “All you’ve got to do is look at what they’re doing. Dentists have got to find a way to support this segment of the population.” Sarrell reports that savvy business practices have enabled it to reduce its operating cost per patient from $328 in 2005 to less than $129 in 2010.
Poll: Many parents are delaying care for their kids
Despite the ample evidence linking oral health to overall health, many Americans are avoiding dental care due to high costs. Kids are also feeling the pinch, as a new poll shows that 47 percent of uninsured parents are putting off their children’s regular dental check-ups due to concerns about cost. Tough economic times have been identified as a reason why Americans spent slightly less on dental care in 2009 than they did in 2008.
North Carolina study links poor dental health with low academic performance
Children with poor dental health were nearly three times more likely to miss school as a result of dental pain, reports a new study published by the American Journal of Public Health. In addition, this study found that children with poor oral health were at greater risk for low academic performance. Absences for routine care were not linked to unsatisfactory student outcomes, but absences caused by dental-related pain were associated with poor performance. The authors of the study theorized that children suffering from dental decay not only miss more days of school, but may also find it difficult to concentrate and perform well whether they’re studying at home or at school.
State agency rejects classifying fluoride as a carcinogen
For years, anti-fluoride activists have spoken of a fluoride-cancer link, but the ample evidence showing fluoridation’s safety was strengthened by an October 12 decision by a panel of California experts. The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) Carcinogen Identification Committee unanimously voted not to label fluoride as a carcinogen. Formed in 1986 by Proposition 65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act), OEHHA periodically reviews the risks associated with various substances. The panel heard testimony and reviewed substantial scientific evidence on fluoride. The OEHHA decision comes three months after a study was released showing no link between bone fluoride levels and osteosarcoma. The study’s design was approved by the National Cancer Institute.