Give SCHIP More Teeth

A few years ago, when my son was 12, he had to have a root canal. I like to believe it's because he didn't brush his ...
by | March 1, 2007

Tooth A few years ago, when my son was 12, he had to have a root canal. I like to believe it's because he didn't brush his teeth well and/or that he's genetically cavity-prone. But I really think it's because he hadn't seen our family dentist for a year. It wasn't the cost that kept us from the usual six-month visit (in fact, we had excellent private insurance coverage), but rather I was just "too busy" and never got around to scheduling a routine appointment.

Last month, a 12-year-old boy in a neighboring Maryland suburb had an aching tooth. Earlier this week, he died. The medical cause, the Washington Post reports, was bacteria from the abscess that had spread to his brain. The underlying cause: His family had lost their Medicaid coverage (apparently as the result of eligibility paperwork being sent to the homeless shelter where the family had recently -- but no longer -- resided) coupled with the difficulty of finding a dentist willing to accept  Medicaid patients.

Overshadowed in the debate about SCHIP and universal health care are the sobering statistics on access to dental care for low-income children: According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, two-thirds of Maryland children enrolled in Medicaid did not see a dentist in 2005. What's more, because of low reimbursement rates and bureaucratic paperwork, only 900 of the state's 5,500 dental providers are willing to treat Medicaid patients--never mind those without any coverage. The National Conference of State Legislatures' Web site offers a wealth of additional material on this topic.

Postponing my son's dental care was foolish -- and I learned a lesson. Delaying (in effect, denying) Deamonte Driver's dental care was fatal -- and we should all learn a lesson.

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Anne Jordan  |  Former Editor
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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