Medicaid-accepting dentists inclined to promote fluoridation

By Melissa Busch, assistant editor

July 9, 2019 -- Pediatric dentists who accepted at least one new Medicaid-insured child each month showed greater willingness to advocate for community water fluoridation programs in a recent study.

Though these fluoridation programs aim to close the tooth decay disparity gap between those with low and high social and economic backgrounds, misinformation from opponents of fluoridating public water sources threatens initiatives.

Researchers from Philadelphia used an online survey to determine if a link existed between the altruistic behaviors of advocating for water fluoridation programs and serving Medicaid-insured children, who often come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. They published their findings in BMC Oral Health (June 14, 2019).

Dental practices often receive lower levels of reimbursement for services covered by Medicaid compared with reimbursement from private insurance, according to the study authors.

The researchers sent the survey to pediatric dentist members of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry who were actively practicing in the U.S. A total of 830 dentists responded to the survey, which was open from mid-February 2016 until mid-May 2016. A majority of survey respondents were women (57%), identified as white (78%), and were currently accepting new Medicaid-insured children each month (65%).

Approximately 3 out of 4 pediatric dentists were willing to advocate for fluoridation programs at local or state levels, indicating the effectiveness of these initiatives, according to the study authors.

A lack of time was the most common reason given by those unwilling to advocate for community water fluoridation. Others were uncomfortable advocating for programs outside their own dental offices or speaking in public.

The analysis indicated that the large number of dentists interested in advocating for community water fluoridation showed a need for public health advocacy and issue-related training.

"We recommend developing and disseminating a comprehensive oral health advocacy toolkit, which could provide a set of practical tools to educate interested dental professionals, including dental and dental hygiene students, about the different strategies and modes to effectively advocate for important oral health and overall health issues," wrote the study authors, led by Vinodh Bhoopathi, MPH, DScD, of the department of pediatric dentistry and community oral health sciences at Temple University Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry in Philadelphia.

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