The most common chronic disease among children is something that can be prevented with a toothbrush, floss, and a visit to the dentist. More than three quarters of adolescents are suffering from tooth decay, yet a rising number of children are not going to the dentist and there is little push to include dental care in current health care reform.
Tooth decay can be very painful for children and leads to expensive procedures from the filling of cavities to root canals. When minor tooth decay and dental problems are ignored or untreated, they lead to more painful and expensive procedures, and worse. Not long ago, a 12-year-old boy died from the failure to treat a dental infection, which spread to his brain. A routine $80 extraction may have saved his life, but without insurance, the boy did not receive care.
Insurance coverage is critical to obtaining dental care. A survey from the Public Health Management Corporation found that in Southeastern Pennsylvania, 40 percent of children without private or public health insurance did not see the dentist in the past year, while 92 percent of those with health insurance did go to the dentist. Nationally 26 million children lack dental insurance, more than twice as many that lack overall health care.
While health care reform is debated, it is critical that the need for overall health, including dental health, is considered in all proposals.