Despite having more families with dental insurance than 15 years ago, kids dental health is getting worse in Kentucky. The 2016 study of 2,109 Kentucky families determined that Kentucky meets only half of eight benchmarks addressing children’s dental health needs. This is a huge problem because tooth decay or dental pain can lead to trouble with concentration in school and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and cancer later in life.
Although Kentucky ranks first in the country in the percentage of people served by fluoridated water systems, the Bluegrass state is struggling to improve the dental health of its youngest inhabitants. Here are the key findings.
The percentage of students who need dental care is increasing.
The percentage of 3rd & 6th graders in Kentucky in need of early or urgent dental care was 32% in 2001. That number has now ballooned to 49%, meaning almost half of students in Kentucky are living with toothaches, tooth decay, infections or cavities. Eastern Kentucky is seeing the least improvement of any region.
Two out of five students have untreated cavities.
Tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease in children, and impacts too many Kentucky children. And when students have poor dental health, it can affect their schoolwork. “We know in a very pragmatic way that a person with a toothache is probably not paying attention to their multiplication tables at school, so oral health is a significant issue for children in Kentucky,” Executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates Dr. Terry Brooks said.
Over half of students do not have sealants.
There was a 14% increase in the number of children observed with dental sealants on at least one permanent molar. However, even with that gain, more than half of the children did not have any sealants, which are clear plastic coatings that protect the chewing surface of a tooth. Sealants are usually one-third the cost of filling a cavity.
Socioeconomic status is a significant factor in students’ oral health.
What’s most troubling is that 88% of these students have dental insurance that pays for some or all of their dental care, parents report, but only 5% reported there was a time when their child needed dental care but couldn’t access it. So if access is not preventing parents from seeing a dentist for their children, is it education? According to the Kentucky Department of Education, more than 70% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. And unsurprisingly students on free or reduced lunch are more likely to have recently experienced a toothache, have visited a dentist more than a year ago, have untreated decay or be in need of urgent dental care.
“What leaps out in the report are two big issues,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “One is the paradox that more kids have coverage and yet outcomes are worse and the second is that we have factors that kids can’t control — where they live, the color of their skin, how much money their parents make — and those are real determinants on the state of kids mouths. None of those are easily solved, but they are challenges that we have to tackle.”
In 2001, only 871 of 2,169 licensed dentists in Kentucky reported seeing Medicaid patients – and low imbursement rates, which have not changed in years, were among reasons cited.
We proudly accept Medicaid patients of all ages.
Many of our offices accept Medicaid and Medicaid type plans. If you would like to find a pediatric dentist near you that accepts your plan or talk about general kids dental health with a professional, please give any of our Kentucky locations a call. We’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction and ensure your children have access to the dental care they need.