Nearly 780,000 of Washington’s children (approximately 43 percent) are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid dental program. However, many of these children never receive dental care. While programs such as Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) have improved access to care over the last 10 years, still more than 50 percent of these children do not receive care. Approximately 450,000 low-income adults also rely on Medicaid for their dental care and only about one-quarter of them actually receive care. These statistics need to change.
How oral disease hurts:
- Children with poor oral health miss school and are less able to learn.
- When the opportunity to prevent disease is missed, more children have painful tooth decay, avoidable treatment becomes necessary, and the cost to the Medicaid Program increases.
- Many adults without access to a regular dental provider seek care in hospital emergency rooms—a very costly way to provide care.
- People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from gum disease which can reduce their ability to control their blood sugar levels and potentially lead to costly diabetic complications, if regular, preventive dental care is not received.
- The state needs additional dental providers to participate in the Medicaid program to meet the demand from patients seeking care.
- There is also a need to expand outreach and education so more people understand the benefits of prevention and the importance of oral health for good overall health.
What the Legislature can do this year:
- Protect the ABCD program, which has a clear track record of getting children into oral health care early.
- Protect Medicaid payments to primary care medical providers who deliver preventive oral health services during well-child exams—another method of early intervention.
- Protect the adult Medicaid dental program, especially for patients with diabetes and other health issues that make oral health services critical to maintaining good overall health and avoiding costly medical care.
- Protect funding for outreach to Medicaid-insured families.
- Review proposals to establish new mid-level dental providers with the goal of increasing access to care for under-served populations.