In a 2000 report on oral health, the Surgeon General identified dental caries (tooth decay) as the single most common chronic disease among children in the United States. This is a preventable health problem that can significantly affect children’s health, ability to concentrate in school, and quality of life, and is more common among children in low-income families. To promote good oral hygiene, the American Dental Association recommends that children have their first dental checkup within 6 months of the eruption of their first tooth and 12 months of age. During Federal Fiscal Year 2005, only 27.6 percent of children eligible for services under the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program received preventive dental service.
In 2005, 72.6 percent of children aged 1–18 years had seen a dentist in the past year. Frequency of dental visits among children varies by family income and race/ethnicity. Children with family incomes of 200 percent or more of the poverty level were more likely to have seen a dentist in the past year than children living with family incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (78.2 versus 63.8 percent).
Non-Hispanic White children between the ages of 1 and 18 years were most likely to have visited a dentist or other dental specialist within the past year (76.5 percent), while Hispanic children were least likely (63.0 percent). Approximately 70 percent of both non-Hispanic Black children and children of other races (including Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native and those of multiple races) visited a dentist in the past year (data not shown).