Medicaid kids getting more dental treatment; report has state-by-state breakdown

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at

In spite of the numbers of Medicaid children rising steeply between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of them making it into dental chairs more than doubled during the same decade, a newly published study finds.

In 2000 an estimated 6.3 million Medicaid children received some type of dental service, by 2010 that number rose to 15.4 million, according to the report, published this month in the Medicare and Medicaid Research Review, a peer-reviewed online journal from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

During the decade, the number of children covered by Medicaid increased by 12 million (50 percent). Over the same time span, the percentage of Medicaid children receiving some type of dental care climbed from roughly 29 percent in 2000 up to 46 percent by 2010.

“This is good news,” said study author Leighton Ku, Ph.D., a health policy researcher at George Washington University. “It’s still not the best possible world but progress has been made.”

The study attributed efforts by federal and state governments to address barriers to care as helping to drive the progress.

The 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, a Maryland child receiving Medicaid who suffered complications from untreated tooth decay, helped focus reforms, Ku said.

“Things are better than when poor Deamonte Driver had his problem,” the researcher noted.

Obstacles, including a shortage of Medicaid dental providers remain, the report observed. Medicaid children do not get to the dentist as frequently as kids with private insurance. According to the report, 53 percent of children with private insurance got care over the past year.

“We have to keep fighting,” Ku said.

Preventive services were more widely available than treatment services, the study found. And, state-by-state, outcomes varied widely.

While less than a quarter (24.5 percent) of Maine’s beneficiaries got any dental care in 2010, nearly two thirds (66.5 percent) of Texas Medicaid children did, according to the report.

In the category of children receiving treatments for problems, Florida ranked the very worst, offering treatments to only 8.3 percent of its more than 1.7 million Medicaid children in 2010. Percentage-wise, however, West Virginia did the best. The state got dental treatments to 49.5 percent of its more than 194,000 Medicaid children.

Want to report on how your state did? Download a PDF of the study and see the state-by-state breakdowns in the report, beginning on page 8.

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