Calif. dental care crisis could get worse

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Laurie Udesky, writing for The New York Times, has found that that pediatric dental care in the state has reached rock bottom, especially for children from low-income families. Unfortunately, in California, it’s starting to look like there may be a floor even lower than rock bottom. Udesky writes: “If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent proposed cuts remain — amounting to a $16.5 million reduction to Healthy Families and a $523 million reduction to Medi-Cal —more cases of untreated dental-related illnesses are likely.”

California children’s dental health was ranked third from the bottom in the National Survey of Children’s Health, above only Arizona and Texas. In the Bay Area, children and teenagers up to the age of 17 made nearly 1,980 visits to emergency rooms for preventable dental conditions in 2007. The cost of these visits averaged $172, but if a problem required hospitalization it cost an average of $5,000.

Today, experts interviewed said the dental care crisis had reached an even more alarming level. “We can only go up from here,” said Dr. Jared I. Fine, the dental health administrator at Alameda County Public Health Department. “We have an epidemic of dental disease in children that’s absurdly pervasive.”

For more on children’s dental health, check out The Cost of Delay (PDF), a report the Pew Center on the States released earlier this year. It seeks to answer the questions “What can states do to ensure better dental care?” and “How many states are doing those things right now?” and includes a strong body of statistics and analysis within its 74 pages.

The National Survey of Children’s Health, last fully updated in 2007, is still a comprehensive source for national data on pediatric dental health. There are data fields for overall dental health, as well as for specific oral health issues in children. For an overview of the data, I just pulled the overall health numbers and mapped a subset of them.

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