While the Affordable Care Act has made dental care for families more accessible, there are still low-income families who still suffer disproportionately from tooth decay. These increases are with children from ages 2-5 in low-income families who have early childhood carries, according to Patrice Pascual, Executive Director of the Children's Dental Health Project. In working with an MIT Professor who does Systems Dynamics Modelling, the Children's Dental Health Project looked at what the published literature said about interventions from increased tooth brushing, to community water fluoridation, to use of xylitol gum by pregnant women, and ran them through the model to try and estimate for this low-income population in New York state. They tried to determine what the health savings would be, such as reduced cavities, and the potential Medicaid cost savings if these interventions expanded for the Medicaid-eligible young children. From this, projections were derived on what the savings could be.
Pascual thinks there's a real opportunity for treating children based on their risk. For example, having risk-based care would help these Medicaid children, so that when you know the child is at an increased risk, they're not just seeing the dentist twice a year but getting services and treatments beyond that. There are a number of things that can happen that are creative, Pascual says, and not especially difficult and are high impact.
Pascual believes there's still work to be done and her hope is that this research prompts conversations in how dental benefits can be fully used for these children, so they can get the care that's based on their risk. "Children do not have to start their life with tooth decay," and if not taken care of when they're young, the implications for child development and their oral health through adulthood are all connected through early childhood, Pascual says.
The Affordable Care Act puts the dental benefit as an essential health benefit, which is a very significant marker for integrating oral health into health, Pascual explains. She believes it's important to raise the visibility of the importance of children's oral health with the ACA, as it generally focuses on the oral health of adults. Pascual says that there are signs that the families coming forward to look for benefits are also being identified as being eligible for Medicaid and CHIP, which she believes is a fantastic thing.
Patrice Pascual is the Executive Director of the Children's Dental Health Project. She spoke with the Dentist News Network, providing online dental video news and is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.