Tooth decay is preventable, yet dental caries is the No. 1 chronic childhood illness in the United States. And the sad irony is that the children who face the greatest barriers to dental care access are often the ones who need it most.
Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD), an innovative program that connects low-income children with nearby dentists, has helped more than 173,000 young children with Apple Health coverage (our state’s Medicaid program) get essential preventive dental care and early treatment.
Through ABCD’s enhanced reimbursement rates and support services, more than half (52.6%) of the state’s at-risk children age five and younger now receive routine dental checkups each year and the number of kindergartners with untreated cavities has been cut in half from 26 percent in 2005 to 13 percent in 2010.
“ABCD has also been the entry point to Medicaid participation for many Thurston County dentists.” – Jennifer Brackeen, Choice Regional Health Network
Today, ABCD is a nationally-recognized model, with more than 52 percent of Washington’s children from birth to age six who are on Apple Health (Medicaid) receiving oral health care services.
“In Thurston County, we’ve made impressive progress in getting young children to care,” said Jennifer Brackeen of the CHOICE Regional Health Network, which manages the county’s ABCD Program. “More than 4,400 of Thurston County’s young children are now receiving care from ABCD-trained providers. ABCD has also been the entry point to Medicaid participation for many Thurston County dentists, who are among Washington’s 2,200-plus ABCD-trained dentists, both pediatric and general dentists.”
Washington State Apple Health dental reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the nation at about 28 cents for every dollar in private insurance. ABCD helps children get the care they need with enhanced reimbursement rates for ABCD-certified dentists. ABCD also connects vulnerable families with information and resources that help set children on a path of healthier living.
Hoping to build on the success of the ABCD model, lawmakers are considering a three-year pilot program that would expand care for pregnant women and patients with diabetes. Enhanced reimbursement rates would apply to low-income expectant mothers and diabetes patients. Eligible Apple Health patients also would receive support services.
Studies have shown that pregnant women and diabetes patients who receive dental care experience improved health, fewer complications and lower medical costs than those who do not. Supporters of the pilot program anticipate that improved access to preventive care for pregnant women and diabetes patients also can lead to improved health outcomes. Because when at-risk populations get the care they need, it can lead to fewer serious complications, shorter hospital stays and a reduction in Emergency Department visits.