Calif. kids' oral health needs not being met

When it comes to kids' oral healthcare, California is far from being the Golden State.

California children's dental health was ranked third from the bottom in the National Survey of Children's Health, above only Arizona and Texas. The survey found that in 2007, the last year that data was available, more than 500,000 California children between the ages of 5 and 17 missed at least one day of school a year because of dental problems, costing school districts $29.7 million dollars in lost revenue, according to a story in the New York Times.

By the age of 5, 28% of the state's children have untreated dental decay, the survey noted.

A study released in February by the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at the University of Southern California found that 73% of disadvantaged youngsters in the Los Angeles area have untreated caries. The study involved dentists screening more than 2,300 children at 59 Head Start centers, elementary and high schools, and Women, Infants and Children centers throughout Los Angeles County.

And a report released in February by the Pew Center on the States gave California a "C" grade in its ability to meet the oral health needs of its children. The report, produced with the support of the W.K. Kellogg and DentaQuest foundations, used eight benchmarks to evaluate how well states are caring for children's oral health; California met four of those benchmarks, according to Pew's criteria.

Jared I. Fine, D.D.S., M.P.H., dental health administrator at Alameda County Public Health Department, told the Times that the medical and dental community has known for decades that dental disease needs to be tackled in early childhood, but programs to do so are "in their infancy" and poorly financed, Dr. Fine said.

And the situation has only worsened as more Californians have lost their jobs and, in turn, their health insurance. An estimated 300,000 Californians lost employer-based health coverage between November 2007 and February 2009, according to Children Now, a children's advocacy group, the Times reported.

The state's budget woes are further compounding the problem. More than 450,000 Californians on Medi-Cal have had to either pay for or go without dental care since July 2009 as a result of state budget cuts, according to a report released in January by Health Access California.

In addition, last August California's Healthy Families Program -- the state's version of the Children's Health Insurance Program -- announced that, beginning October 1, 2009, they would deny coverage to some children and pregnant women who had already been accepted into the program. More than 60,000 people were expected to lose their coverage and 669,296 could ultimately be dropped, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest proposed cuts remain -- amounting to a $16.5 million reduction to Healthy Families and a $523 million reduction to Medi-Cal -- more cases of untreated dental-related illnesses are likely, the New York Times article noted.

Copyright © 2010

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