With the expansion of Healthy Kids Dental to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties, 100,000 kids (and their parents) will have reason to smile as they gain access to this highly successful program starting Oct. 1.
Healthy Kids Dental is a public-private partnership between the Department of Community Health and Delta Dental of Michigan. The program is available to Medicaid-eligible children under age 21 in 78 counties in which the Department is funded to contract with Delta Dental.
The state budget beginning Oct. 1 includes $5.4 million in state funds and $10.3 million in federal funds to expand to Kalamazoo and Macomb counties. The program, administered by Delta Dental, uses Delta’s commercial network and pays higher rates than Medicaid.
That means as of Oct. 1, Healthy Kids Dental will be available to Medicaid-eligible children in all counties except Wayne, Oakland and Kent. These counties are home to hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families, representing nearly 40% of Michigan’s Medicaid-eligible children. A significant percentage of those left out are children of color.
While it is great that 100,000 children will gain access to comprehensive dental services, it is critical that all Medicaid-eligible children in Michigan have access to this program and to good oral health opportunities. Tooth decay remains the No. 1 chronic disease in children, but it is preventable with access to good dental care. Like potholes, cavities just grow larger, more expensive to repair and more painful.
All children need to be able to learn and progress in school, but toothaches and other dental problems cause them to lose concentration or miss school. In a study of low-income children in Los Angeles, researchers found that elementary students missed 2.1 days of school each year due to dental problems while high school students missed 2.3 days and parents missed 2.5 days of work.
In addition, untreated problems can impact overall health, including growth and nutrition as well as behavior. Inadequate oral health treatment in childhood can result in ongoing problems in adulthood, including missed work, inability to get a job, or aggravated chronic health conditions.
The Michigan Oral Health Coalition report, 2013 Check-Up on Oral Health, documents a number of key oral health indicators by county, including the number of Medicaid-participating dentists, the number of Healthy Kids Dental participating dentists as well as the estimated cost of “dental neglect.”
While we celebrate the addition of Kalamazoo and Macomb counties to the list of Healthy Kids Dental covered counties, we must not lose sight of the kids left behind. Healthy Kids Dental must be expanded statewide to the remaining 402,000 children, improving their health and learning potential, while reducing pain and cost.
-- Jan Hudson-