What Can California Do to Prevent the #1 Chronic Childhood Disease?

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During February, we commemorate Children’s Dental Health Month and, in doing so, reflect on the state of oral health for kids in California and what needs to be done to improve it. Tooth decay is the number one childhood chronic disease—two to three times more common than childhood obesity or asthma. Yet it is preventable. Here is some work The Children’s Partnership is doing to promote solutions to the problem.

  1.  Helping families understand their dental benefits and how to use them. Many families in California may not know that if their child is enrolled in health coverage through Medi-Cal or Covered California, he or she also has dental coverage. Schools, businesses, doctors, nurses, and communities all have a role to play in helping families understand how to get the dental care their children need. That’s why we created brand new flyers to help families navigate dental coverage for their children. It will be especially important to educate families whose children may not have had coverage in the past, such as low-income undocumented children who will be newly eligible for Medi-Cal later this year. We will be sharing these flyers through schools, clinics, and other partners. Please help us get them out to families, too!
  2. Bringing dental care to children where they are in the community. Underserved children, who suffer from poor oral health, face significant obstacles in obtaining dental services. Many low-income families have difficulty getting needed dental services because they lack affordable transportation, lose pay when they miss work, and face other socioeconomic barriers. Bringing care directly to them bypasses these barriers and, for many, may be the only option for getting care. The Virtual Dental Home (VDH) is an innovative and cost-effective system for providing dental care to California’s most vulnerable children in community settings. The VDH model uses technology to connect specially trained dental hygienists and assistants, located at community sites (such as schools and Head Start sites), with dentists in offices or clinics to facilitate comprehensive dental care. We are sponsoring legislation—AB 648 (Low)—which would provide a one-time start-up investment in training, equipment, technical assistance, and other support that providers need to begin implementing the VDH so that it can be brought to underserved communities across the state.
  3. Encouraging a sustainable system of care for children in Medi-Cal. Now that more kids than ever have health and dental coverage, we need to make sure they can use it. Approximately 5.6 million California children are enrolled in Medi-Cal, but fewer than half of these children are receiving necessary dental care. While progress has been made, Medi-Cal continues to fall short of meeting the dental care needs of the state’s most vulnerable children. We need a sustainable system that brings care to children in community settings, utilizes community health workers to educate and engage families and coordinate care, and provides enough dentists in the right places to address the restorative dental care needs of children. For example, the State should implement a program like the ABCD program in Washington State and a similar program in Alameda County that supports a whole team to address the oral health needs of young children.
  4. Shaping the State’s oral health plan. This year, TCP is helping to develop the State Department of Public Health’s statewide oral health plan, led by the newly appointed Dental Director, to ensure the plan makes meaningful recommendations for improving children’s oral health and action is taken to begin timely implementation. All of California’s kids deserve the dental care they need to not suffer in pain, do well in school, and avoid costly health problems later on in life.

Please join us in helping families understand their children’s dental coverage and how to get care by promoting these much-needed statewide systems. Contact Jenny Kattlove, Senior Director of Programs, with any questions at jkattlove@childrenspartnership.org.

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