Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dentists Continue to Ignore Low-Income Children

Children in America are dying from untreated tooth decay. And dentists are resisting any change that might alleviate the problem. Sixty-six percent of Medicaid eligible children (12.6 million) are not receiving any dental care. And the number of dentists has gone down in recent years and the number of dentist-shortage areas has gone up.

At least 50 percent of the average dentist's income now comes from elective cosmetic procedures. If dentists spent less time giving wealthier Americans artificially whitened grins, they would have more time to treat the serious oral disease that plagues millions of poorer Americans.

In 2000, the US Surgeon General revealed the ugly truth - that the low-incomed and minorities aren't getting the dental care wealthier Americans take for granted.

Many reports, meetings, symposiums, studies, conferences and years later, nothing has changed. Representative Dennis Kucinich held his fourth hearing on this issue on October 9, 2009 as chairman of the Domestic policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In his opening statement, Kucinich said:

"On February 25, 2007 Deamonte Driver, a twelve-year-old boy from Prince George's County, Maryland died from a brain infection caused by untreated tooth decay. Deamonte's tragic death could have been easily prevented by access to dental care - dental care he was entitled to.”

About two dozen dentists contacted refused to treat Deamonte Driver because he was on Medicaid.

"At our first hearing in May 2007, we learned that Deamonte Driver was not the only Maryland youth who wasn't receiving dental care to which he was entitled by Medicaid, said Kucinich. His investigation found that approximately 11,000 Maryland children on Medicaid had not seen a dentist in at least four years.

Representative Elijah Cummings, a member of the committee, said he grew up without dental care and believed his constant tooth decay pain was normal. He doesn't want any kids to have to endure that, especially when it's easily treated, he said.

Cummings said he has lots of kids from fluoridated Baltimore going to the University of Maryland for dental care, partially because of Deamonte Driver's death because "I want them to grow up," he said. Many of them have such bad tooth infections that traveled to and infected their eyes - which happens before the infections reaches the brain which killed Deamonte Driver, said Cummings.

Kucinich said, “A GAO report (2007), the first of its kind since 2000, revealed that millions of Medicaid-enrolled children suffer from tooth decay - almost one-third of the total Medicaid population. Medicaid children are roughly twice as likely as privately-insured chidren to suffer from tooth decay. Moreover, this pattern has persisted for years; very little had been done to improve access to and utilization of dental services. In a sense, the problem of tooth decay is getting worse because the rate of decay in the teeth of children aged two through five has increased in recent years."

Today, there are millions of children just like Deamonte Driver - entitled to dental care but not getting it, said Kucinich

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