John Vande Wege/KPCC
7-year-old Darrien Ryan gets his teeth cleaned.
California is facing a looming dental crisis as its prepares to transition nearly a million more youngsters into Medi-Cal’s already overburdened dental programs, warns a report by The Children's Partnership in Santa Monica.
“Currently, families are really struggling to access dental care for their families,” says Jenny Kattlove, author of the report and director of strategic health initiatives for the national advocacy group for children. “Often times they have to wait months even just to get an appointment and/or they have to travel great distances to get care.”
The influx of new enrollees into Medi-Cal, California’s version of federally-subsidized Medicaid, comes mostly from the Healthy Families insurance program for low-income children that Governor Jerry Brown's administration is closing this year in a bid to save money.
The Children's Partnership report, "Fix Medi-Cal Dental Coverage," says Medi-Cal's dental programs are already overburdened in large part because there are too few dentists willing to accept Medi-Cal reimbursements, which rank among the lowest in the nation.
The report urges the state to adopt recommendations that include raising Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for dentists; expanding the role of dental hygienists and assistants so they can provide more care to those in areas with few participating dentists; better educating families about the availability of dental benefits and making it easier for them to enroll in Medi-Cal dental programs.
Kattlove says proper dental care is essential to children's health and well-being, yet tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease and unmet health care need of children.
"Oftentimes they land in emergency rooms because they can't access preventive care that they need," she says.