More than 48 million people in the United States live in areas with dentist shortages. Access to care is also limited for the 72 million children and adults who rely on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program: Only about one-third of U.S. dentists accept public insurance.
Left untreated, dental health problems can cause pain and tooth loss, impair children’s growth and social development, impede productivity and job opportunities, exacerbate chronic conditions, and complicate detection of oral cancers. And when dental pain becomes too severe to ignore, many people—more than 2 million in 2012—resort to emergency room visits, which provide no treatment for underlying oral health problems but have a high price for patients and taxpayers: $1.6 billion in 2012, with Medicaid’s share totaling $520 million.
Pew’s dental campaign works to close gaps in dental care access by increasing the number of available providers and expanding the reach of preventive services through the use of dental sealant programs in high-need schools. Research shows that such programs are a valuable, cost-effective way to treat the children most at risk of tooth decay
Our WorkView All
Sometimes even the best national data available are still insufficient to draw meaningful policy conclusions. On May 31, the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute released a 50-state report estimating the geographic proximity of publicly insured children to Medicaid providers. The report uses sophisticated geomapping to match a national database of publicly insured children... Read More
In May, The Pew Charitable Trusts interviewed veteran journalist Mary Otto about what she learned while writing her new book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America. Her answers have been edited slightly for clarity and length. Read More
Many Minnesota children are now receiving care because their state allows dentists to hire dental therapists like Becker. These professionals—midlevel providers akin to physician assistants—provide routine prevention and treatment services, such as filling cavities and placing temporary crowns. Read More
Working With Midlevel Providers
Dentists share their perspectives on these practitioners.