OralHealthBlog2_Dec30The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report that compared parent-reported children’s oral health status and receipt of preventive dental visits across the United States between 2003 and 2011/2012. It was interesting to look at this report and see what improvements have been made, where we have room for growth, and where Kentucky ranks. The report includes the following national results:

  • In 2003, 67.7 percent of parents reported that their children had very good or excellent oral health; this percentage increased to 71.9 percent in 2011/2012.
  • In 2003, 71.5 percent of parents reported that their child had a preventive dental visit; this percentage increased to 77.0 percent in 2011/2012.
  • Twenty-six states saw an increase in the prevalence of children with excellent or very good oral health status.
  • Forty-five states saw an increase in the prevalence of children who received at least one preventive care dental visit.

When it came to children who received at least one preventive dental visit in the past twelve months, significant improvements were seen in all but six states: Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Kentucky showed the smallest change in the percentage of children who received at least one preventive dental visit in the past twelve months with 72.4 percent in 2003 and 75.8 percent in 2011/2012.

This report suggests that while there has been steady progress, tooth decay is still the largest unmet health care need for children. Children in Kentucky face many barriers to receiving preventive dental care. First, dental procedures have high out-of-pocket expenses. Also, children living in rural regions of the state or outside of Lexington, Louisville, and Northern Kentucky may have less access to pediatric or kid friendly dental offices.

In the fall of 2013, the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition conducted seven focus groups across the state. Parents were encouraged to share their thoughts and practices related to oral health care including their experience with dentists and dental health professionals. Those in Eastern Kentucky had difficulties finding a dentist that accepted Medicaid and getting an appointment. One mom in our Eastern Kentucky focus group said “There is limited dentists and it’s hard to get an appointment with them in a timely manner. Sometimes there are dentist around here that will not take a medical card or they won’t take a certain kind of medical card.” This leaves parents fewer options when trying to receive dental care for their children.

We found that many parents were traveling out of their region to receive dental care for their children. One Western Kentucky parent felt the long drive was worth her child’s happiness. She said “The dentist I take my child to takes the time to talk to her. I know if I took them to a dentist around here they are so busy, busy, busy…. Our dentist talks to the parents, lets them know what is going on, and what I need to do.  I don’t want to take her to a dentist that is going to be hard on her, or mean, or hateful. I want to take them to a pediatric dentist where they are better with kids, more experienced.” When parents are required to travel to find a pediatric dentist they are oftentimes required to remove the child from school or miss work themselves.

On the other hand, when parents in Northern Kentucky were asked about finding a pediatric dentist they said “That’s not a problem. There are plenty.” Another mom said “You get to shop around. You can go into Ohio too so availability is not a problem; getting the after school appointment… that’s the hard part.” One mom even said “[Our dentist] makes my kids feel so good about themselves even if they have a cavity.” These parents had the most praise for their local dentists and the least problems finding a pediatric dentist.

While access to care is extremely important, optimal oral health begins at home. Children should be brushing their teeth for two minutes two times a day and flossing daily. Eating a balanced diet of lean meats, fruits, and veggies while limiting snacks and sugary beverages can provide children with proper nutrition they need for a healthy mouth. Children, starting at age one, should see a dentist every six months for a cleaning and exam. Starting dentist visits at an early age is good for establishing a relationship with the dentist and building trust to avoid anxiety in the future.