Minority, Poor Children in Connecticut Have Worse Oral Health Than Whites; Increased Access to Dental Services Needed, Advocates Say
Minority children in Connecticut experience severe tooth decay at twice the rate of white children, and poor children -- regardless of race or ethnicity -- are three times more likely to have multiple cavities by third grade than those from families with higher incomes, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the Hartford Courant reports.
The report is a part of the national Every Smile Counts survey. State investigators during the past year administered oral exams to children enrolled in Head Start preschool programs, public school kindergarten and third grade. They found that:
- By third grade, 50% of all black and Asian-American children had either fillings or untreated decay, compared with 35% of white children;
- Hispanic children had the highest rate of tooth decay, with 63% having either fillings or untreated cavities;
- One in five minority children had rampant decay, defined as five or more teeth with decay, compared with one in 10 white children; and
- One in three children in preschool had untreated tooth decay or at least one filling.
Dentists attribute higher rates of tooth decay in low-income children to poor nutrition and inadequate oral care by parents but say the main cause is lack of access to dentists. According to the Courant, about 100 of the 2,237 dentists in the state accept Medicaid patients. Advocates for the indigent maintain that the state needs to increase Medicaid payments to dentists so that more will be willing to treat them.
Jamey Bell -- a staff attorney at Greater Hartford Legal Aid, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of 300,000 low-income residents seeking better access to state dental services -- said, "We know hundreds of families who have tried desperately to get help for their children. And sometimes it takes months and months, and sometimes they give up." She added, "It's horrible and it's outrageous and not at all surprising" (Waldman, Hartford Courant, 9/19).
The report is available online (.pdf). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.