According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dental caries (tooth decay) is the most common chronic disease among children in the United States. Untreated tooth decay causes pain and infections, which may affect children’s ability to eat, speak, play, and learn.1 Dental caries, however, is preventable with proper dental care. For this reason, the American Dental Association recommends that children have their first dental checkup within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first.
In 2008, only 31.7 percent of children eligible for services under the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program received preventive dental services. This is similar to the previous year’s rate, but an improvement over the rate of 27.7 percent in 2006.
In 2008, 73.9 percent of children aged 1–18 years received dental care, including care from dental specialists and dental hygienists, in the past year. Receipt of dental care varied by a number of factors, including race/ethnicity and poverty level. Children living in households with incomes above 200 percent of the U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty threshold ($22,025 for a family of four in 2008) were more likely than children living in households with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold to have received dental care in the past year (78.9 percent versus 66.8 percent).
Non-Hispanic White children were more likely than children of other racial/ethnic groups to have received dental care in the past year (76.4 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Black children (73.9 percent) and Hispanic children (66.7 percent; data not shown).