Published by Georgetown University
A new national survey of U.S. parents shows that children without dental insurance were twice as likely as insured kids to have had a recent toothache or other dental problem that affected their ability to eat, sleep or concentrate in school. The survey reveals the crucial impact of dental coverage at a time when Congress is considering plans to significantly alter key programs — including Medicaid — through which many U.S. children and families are covered.
The survey of 605 parents of children up to age 21 was conducted March 3-5 by Public Policy Polling. The survey was commissioned by the Children’s Dental Health Project and sponsored by the Benevis Foundation. Other key findings from the parent survey include:
Parents of uninsured kids were nearly three times as likely to have children who went without care than parents whose kids were insured.
- Within the past year, 13% of parents said their children were “in need of dental care but not able to receive it.” However, parents of uninsured kids were nearly three times as likely (26%) to have children who went without care than parents whose kids were insured (9%).
- Affordability is the major reason parents reported why their children needed but did not obtain dental care. In fact, parents were roughly seven times more likely to cite cost (57%) as they were to cite “difficulty getting to the dentist.”
- Dental access issues were more pronounced among low-income and minority respondents. Parents with annual incomes below $30,000 were twice as likely (28%) and Hispanic parents were nearly three times more likely (34%) to report their children were in need of dental care but unable to receive it. Hispanic (35%), Asian (11%) and African-American parents (10%) were also more likely than White parents (2%) to report that their children had visited an emergency room for a dental problem in the past year.
- Parents were asked whether the debate in Washington D.C. about the future of health coverage made them feel more secure, feel less secure or feel no different. Just under half (45%) said they felt less secure, 27% felt more secure, 23% felt no different and 4% were unsure.
- Pediatricians and other medical staff can play meaningful roles in children’s oral health. In the survey, only 35% of parents said their children’s doctor talked or asked about dental issues during the last few medical appointments.
Although the attention over medical and dental coverage is focused on those insured through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, Congress has yet to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), whose funding will expire at the end of September.
“This survey speaks loud and clear — coverage counts,” said Meg Booth, executive director for the Children’s Dental Health Project. “When children are covered by Medicaid, CHIP or private insurance, they are more likely to have regular dental visits. And they are far less likely to have serious oral health problems that can cause pain and disrupt their lives.”
The parent survey findings reflect recent research on children’s dental health access. A recent Journal of the American Dental Association study found that uninsured children had the fewest dental appointments and their parents were most likely to report unmet dental health needs due to cost. Children’s dental health needs are also especially pronounced in low-income, minority, and rural communities, according to a 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts analysis.