Study says dental care is the No. 1 unmet health need among children

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About one in six caregivers say dental care was the most unmet challenge amid the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many children going without dental care, a new study found.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, found dental care was the No. 1 unmet health care need among children.

The University of Pittsburgh study was based on caregiver surveys. About one in six caregivers said dental care had suffered most amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, just 5% identified medical care as the greatest unmet need, followed by mental health services and vision care, both at 3%.

“Three times as many households reported unmet dental care for a child compared to unmet medical care,” study authors wrote, noting that emergency rooms cavity diagnoses had spiked over the past year.

The findings led the authors to call for changes to make dental care more accessible to children and families.

“The current pandemic is a call to action to reinvigorate our efforts in primary prevention for oral health, with a particular focus on solutions that promote oral health for all Americans,” they wrote.

The findings were not a surprise to some dental care advocates — even before the pandemic about one in five Florida children suffered from treatable dental problems.

Further, more than 23% of Florida 3rd graders have untreated tooth decay, making Florida 6th in the nation for the highest percentage of third-grade children with unfilled cavities. 

Floridians for Dental Access — a coalition of dentists, dental hygienists, community advocates and families — said the study showed the need for lawmakers to pass a proposal that would bring dental therapists to Florida.

Dental therapists are a class of oral health care providers who serve between a dentist and hygienist. In some states they are authorized to provide certain types of dental care under the supervision of a dentist, allowing dental practices to serve more people at a more affordable price point.

They can also provide dental care directly to community settings, such as in schools, Head Start programs, senior centers and rural community clinics. 

Dental therapists aren’t authorized to practice in Florida, however, SB 604 by Sen. Jeff Brandes would authorize and set up a licensing process for dental therapists.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health Policy Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Staff Reports


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