Length of Time Since Last Dental Visit

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Learn More About Dental Care

Measures of Dental Care on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org presents the estimated percentage of children ages 2-11 and youth ages 12-17 by the length of time since their last dental visit. These data come from the California Health Interview Survey.
Dental Care
Access to Services for Children with Special Health Care Needs (State-Level Data)
Health Care
Why This Topic Is Important
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children ages 6-18 (1). Untreated dental problems, such as cavities and gum disease, can affect a child’s health and quality of life by leading to pain, nutritional and sleep problems, impaired concentration, and increased school absences, as well as lost work hours for parents (2, 3). If dental disease is not treated early, it can result in the need for more serious and expensive intervention later on (2).

Tooth decay and other oral diseases disproportionately affect low-income children, children of color, and the uninsured (1, 4). Those children, compared to their peers, are less likely to receive routine dental check-ups, which are critical for preventing tooth decay. For this reason, the federal government has set a public health goal focused on improving access to preventive dental services for low-income children (5).
For more information about dental health see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Paradise, J. (2012). Children and oral health: Assessing needs, coverage, and access. Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Retrieved from: http://kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/children-and-oral-health-assessing-needs-coverage

2.  Children Now. (n.d.). Oral health. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/issue-areas/health/oral-health/oral-health-cont

3.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Oral health: Preventing cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. Retrieved from: http://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/11862

4.  Dye, B. A., et al. (2012). Oral health disparities as determined by selected Healthy People 2020 oral health objectives for the United States, 2009–2010 (NCHS Data Brief No. 104). National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db104.htm

5.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2012). Healthy People 2020: Oral health, OH-8. Retrieved from: https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/oral-health/objectives
How Children Are Faring
In 2013-14, an estimated 74% of California children ages 2-11 and 79% of youth ages 12-17 had a dental visit in the past 6 months. However, about 9% of children ages 2-11 and 2% of adolescents ages 12-17 had never visited a dentist. Among counties or regions within California, the estimated percentage of children ages 2-11 who had never seen a dentist ranged from about 1% to 28% in 2013-14.
Policy Implications
All children need access to high quality, affordable dental care. Research has shown that more than 7 in 10 California children suffer from tooth decay by the time they reach third grade, and 3 out of 10 third graders have untreated decay (1). Inequities also persist among African American/black and Latino children compared to other children (2).

The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes dental health care for children in the essential health benefits that must be covered by all qualified health insurance plans, a major step forward in ensuring access to oral health care for children (2, 3). California law also allocates funding for an oral health assessment before starting school, which can help ensure early dental care. However, in 2009, California suspended the only statewide public program to provide school-based, oral health services to children (the Children’s Dental Disease Prevention Program). Research has shown that California students miss an estimated 874,000 school days a year due to dental problems (4).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could influence children’s dental health include:
  • Increasing reimbursement rates for dental providers under public insurance programs, to create incentives for them to treat low-income children; this is most effective when combined with improved administration of Medicaid-funded dental coverage and improved Medi-Cal partnerships with dental societies (2, 3, 5)
  • Increasing the number of pediatric dentists where Medi-Cal patients live, and ensuring adequate transportation and appointment coordination when dentists are out of the area (3, 6)
  • Setting pediatric dental benefits under ACA at affordable rates to allow low-income families to access the services (6)
  • Expanding outreach to families enrolled in public insurance programs about the availability and importance of dental care (3)
  • Reinstating state support for children’s dental disease prevention (7)
  • Ensuring that all communities have fluoridated drinking water, as it has been successful in reducing cavities among children (2)
  • Promoting collaboration across medical and dental disciplines to ensure consistent, evidence-based oral health education for child health care providers, including screening, parent education, and topical fluoride application (8)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, or visit the California Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, or the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Oral Health.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Hughes, D., & Gutman, A. (2013). School health policy: An avenue to community collaboration. Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. Retrieved from: http://www.centerfororalhealth.org/images/lib_PDF/school_health_policy_an_avenue_to_community_collaboration.pdf

2.  Paradise, J. (2012). Children and oral health: Assessing needs, coverage, and access. Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Retrieved from: http://kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/children-and-oral-health-assessing-needs-coverage

3.  The Children’s Partnership. (2013). Fix Medi-Cal dental coverage: Half of California’s kids depend on it. Retrieved from: http://www.childrenspartnership.org/publications/525

4.  Pourat, N., & Nicholson, G. (2009). Unaffordable dental care is linked to frequent school absences. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Retrieved from: http://healthpolicy.ucla.edu/publications/search/pages/detail.aspx?PubID=92

5.  Borchgrevink, A., et al. (2008). Increasing access to dental care in Medicaid: Does raising provider rates work? California HealthCare Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.chcf.org/publications/2008/03/increasing-access-to-dental-care-in-medicaid-does-raising-provider-rates-work

6.  Short, N. (2013). Health care reform: 8 months and counting. California Dental Association. Retrieved from: http://www.cda.org/news-events/health-care-reform-8-months-and-counting

7.  Children Now. (2016). Restore school-based dental disease prevention program. Retrieved from: https://www.childrennow.org/files/4614/5806/6012/CN-2016-17-Dental-Budget.pdf

8.  Douglass, A. B., et al. (2009). Educating pediatricians and family physicians in children's oral health. Academic Pediatrics, 9(6), 452-456. Retrieved from: http://www.academicpedsjnl.net/article/S1876-2859(09)00250-2/
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Dental Care