Report: Pregnant women have harder time obtaining dental care, regardless of income

Mary Otto

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 mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: NIAID via Flickr

There is a shortage of state and national data on the subject, but studies suggest that women face unique barriers in obtaining dental services during pregnancy, according to a new issue brief from the nonprofit Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP).

Experts agreed that “preventive, diagnostic, and restorative dental treatment is safe throughout pregnancy and is effective in improving and maintaining oral health.” Yet one survey highlighted in the CDHP brief found that more than three-quarters of obstetricians and gynecologists reported patients who were declined dental services because they were pregnant.

Further complicating the search for care is the fact that women, particularly poor women, may lack dental benefits. Medicaid finances roughly half of all births in the United States.

But Medicaid’s coverage of dental services during pregnancy is not federally mandated and varies from state to state.

This shortage of dental care has implications for pregnant women, new mothers and their children, the organization says. A mother’s oral health status is a strong predictor of a child’s oral health, notes CDHP, citing findings based on federal data. Data also links maternal oral health with economic well-being in families.

In the brief, CDHP calls for stepped-up surveillance, data collection and research on the oral health status of women during pregnancy and their access to benefits and services. The organization also advocates increasing care and expanding public awareness about the importance of maintaining oral health during pregnancy.

“Pregnancy provides a unique and time-limited opportunity for women to assess and address critical issues that can benefit themselves, their newborns and families,” the brief said. “It’s time for oral health advocates to develop new and more focused strategies to seize this opportunity.”

A new AHCJ tip sheet can help you when reporting on this issue in your community.

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