One of the most shameful gaps in the American health care system involves the country’s poorest children. They can’t get basic dental treatment. It’s not that they don’t have insurance—many of them do. The problem is that dentists won’t treat them.
According to the Children’s Dental Health Project, an oral health advocacy group, 46.9 million kids are currently covered by Medicaid or CHIP, the government program that provides health insurance to children in families whose incomes are modest but too high to qualify for Medicaid. But in a recent survey, only 32 percent of dentists in private practice reported treating any patients on public assistance, and that figure is likely an overestimate.
Children who don’t see a dentist are more likely to miss school because of infected teeth and gums and to grow into adults with severe oral health problems. Dental disease only gets worse if it’s left untreated, and when people are unable to find a dentist to help them, they often end up in the ER.