Report: Cavities, abcesses, tooth decay are driving children to Florida emergency rooms
by Lily Fineout

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Medicaid covered 80.6% of emergency department visits for nontraumatic dental care for children 14 and younger.

As Florida readies a new Medicaid dental contract, a new report shows that the vast majority of young children’s visits to emergency departments (EDs) were due to issues stemming from lack of preventive care, even though the services are covered by Medicaid.

Medicaid covered 80.6% of emergency department visits for nontraumatic dental care for children 14 and younger in 2020, according to a report released by Massachusetts-based CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. By contrast, commercial insurance accounted for just under 10% of emergency room visits by children for nontraumatic care.

The most common diagnoses for these children at the time of their emergency department visit were abscesses, tooth decay and cavities, mouth ulcers, and chronic gingivitis. All of those conditions are largely preventable with proper oral health care.

Released Tuesday, the report provides a snapshot of ED visits for children under age 14 in 2020 in Florida and seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Utah and Wisconsin.

Among those states, Florida had the highest rate (26.7 per 10,000 people) of nontraumatic dental care ED visits for those aged 14 and below. When broken down by race and gender, data show that Black boys in Florida had the highest emergency room visit rates (50.2 per 10,000 people) for nontraumatic conditions. Black girls had the second highest rate (47.3).  

By comparison, the rate for White boys and White girls was 19.5. Girls who identified their race as “other” had the lowest ED rates (16.2) for nontraumatic dental care.

“It’s devastating,” said Frank Catalanotto, the former dean at the University of Florida College of Dentistry and founder of the group called Floridians for Dental Access. The organization has gained the support of the American Children’s Campaign and will propose ways to improve dental care in Florida.

Catalanotto attributes the emergency room visits to a trio of factors, including the high cost of dental care, which makes it unattainable for the working poor and middle class. Additionally, Catalanotto said Florida’s public health policies do not recognize the connection between dental care and overall health care, a point he has tried to stress as a member of a Medicaid dental health advisory committee.

Florida requires all Medicaid patients to receive their dental care through managed care plans. The state currently has three plans under contract: Dentaquest, LIBERTY and MCNA Dental. 

He’s a believer in managed care “in the long run,” but Catalanotto says, for now, Florida’s program is befuddled by a lack of dentists willing to participate in the contracted dental plans’ managed care networks.

“The basic problem is that the dental companies that get these contracts do not build a robust enough network,” Catalanotto told Florida Politics.

The report is based on data collected by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Health Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), the nation’s most comprehensive source of hospital care data, including emergency department encounters. 

It is the latest in a series of reports released by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health and is the first to delve into children’s use of EDs.

“These findings are a stark example of why it is critically important for every child to have regular access to preventive oral health care,” said Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of CareQuest Institute. “Dental coverage is necessary, and these results reinforce the need to do more to address the many access barriers facing children.”

The report is being released as the state prepares to re-procure its Medicaid managed dental program.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


  • Dont Say FLA

    July 18, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Gov Ron DeSantis says the Food Pyramid is nonsense that will make you fat, so I only feel my children those giant bags of candy from Costco.

  • Cavities, abscesses, and tooth decay

    July 18, 2023 at 8:46 am

    And what drives Cavities, abscesses, tooth decay? Drag queens? No. It’s Meth. So let’s attack the Food Pyramid.

  • Earl Pitts "Economics Professor" American

    July 18, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Good mornting America,
    Reasearch indicates dental care is the first thing parents cut back on when inflation skyrockets like our Great Nation has been suffering under whats known as “Bidenflation”
    Thank you America,
    Earl Pitts “Economics Professor” American

    • Frank catalanotto

      July 19, 2023 at 12:11 pm

      Maybe true but this is a long term problem not related to inflation. Aaron Jones on Medicaid cannot find a dentist who will see them. Are the parents without insurance simply cannot afford the high cost of dental care in private sector. Please get your facts straight.

  • Spence Bloom

    July 18, 2023 at 6:46 pm

    “Cavities, abcesses, tooth decay are driving children to Florida emergency rooms”. The word “parent” is not mentioned. Abcesses don’t happen because a check up is missed…it is because 3-6 checkups are missed. Public clinics and other safety net settings exist. Parents can be a child’s major barrier to care.

    • Frank catalanotto

      July 19, 2023 at 12:09 pm

      Except when parents cannot find a dentist who takes Medicaid or parents cannot afford dental care

      • Earl Pitts"Dont Whizz Off Earl" American

        July 19, 2023 at 2:18 pm

        They cant buy food and fuel due to Bidenflation…where will Mom & Dad get $$$ for a Dentist under this punishing Bidenflation?
        Why is the White House hurting Black America so badly. Do Black Teeth Matter?

  • trish peebles

    July 23, 2023 at 11:06 pm

    If prevention starts in the home, look into the parents meal planning, getting fluoride toothpaste and fluoride mouth rinses and know the difference between water instead of a drink, no soda or sugar iced tea. Tremendous decay is just a walking example of blaming the other person, rather than taking on the charge of responsibility for managing the healthy child practice. NO ONE but the parent who had this child should blame anyone or public assistance. Stop having children and realize it is expensive to raise a healthy person at any age. If you want this child, make sure they understand what comes next, preventive dental care with healthy baby exams, fluoride varnishes when teeth are erupted and give the child water or milk. NO more cheap soda or orange juice with sugar added.

    • George Pinnell

      July 27, 2023 at 6:50 am

      Fluoride is NOT the answer, whether in water or toothpaste, as can be seen by the graphs here: The claimed benefit has proved illusory and resultant harm increasingly recognized leading to the concentration level used in water being slashed by at least 30%, to 0.7ppm, in 2015 for the majority of fluoridated areas. Only 5% of the world is subjected to this unethical practice which denies people their individual right of consent. Failure to obtain a Medical Product’s Licence or comply with Pharmaceutical Standards show this to be a fraud which should never have been implemented in the first instance. Meanwhile, big business profits from having their toxic fluoride waste disposed of at public expense!

  • trisha staszak

    July 23, 2023 at 11:11 pm

    Why do we not have fluoride swishes available to preschool and public elementary children? The manufacturers have taken this product off the market. I am a public school dental hygienist and I can NOT continue my preventive program because the companies stopped making this easy application to children weekly. Now I must do individually each child’s treatment. Tough and not productive on limited hours in a week.

Comments are closed.


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