12 million children in the U.S. have untreated tooth decay.

Even in the era of the Patient Protection Act and the Affordable Care Act, a recent study found that between 2011 and 2014, 12 million American children were living with untreated tooth decay. The study was intended to analyze socioeconomic and demographic factors that might have contributed to the children with untreated tooth decay. Specifically, they wanted to understand how the Affordable Care Act affected rates of untreated tooth decay in children.child w dentist pixabay cco-1437430 640

Researchers identified a number of expected and unexpected factors that were relevant to the presence of untreated tooth decay in children. These include:

  • Demographic and Socioeconomic factors
    • Age
    • Family income
    • Access to care
    • Utilization of care
  • Nonfinancial barriers
    • Lack of convenient appointment times
    • Parental busyness
    • Prohibitive distance to a dentist’s office
    • Child’s fear of the dentist

Some key statistical information from the study:

  1. Children whose families were dealing with financial barriers to treatment had more than twice the risk of developing tooth decay.
  2. Children facing nonfinancial barriers had nearly triple the risk of developing tooth decay.
  3. Children with a dental visit in the past 12 months had 44% lower chances of developing and living with untreated tooth decay.

The study pointed to “Interventions such as school-based sealant programs” that might help to overcome nonfinancial barriers by bringing the dentist to the school. There are many ways to address both financial and nonfinancial barriers to dental treatment for children. Many people are unaware of the extent of this problem. Some others are unwilling to discuss it. It remains a staggering failure of our health care system in this country that so many children are living with decaying teeth, and the pain it causes, at any given time.

The first step in any plan to overcome the barriers and provide needed dental care to all children is typically an initial conversation between a trusted dentist (one committed to creative thinking to ensure that quality dental care is made available to all children) and the child’s parents. When these conversations occur, and when parents are honest about barriers to dental care for their child, it is possible to make the parents aware of local programs available to assist with the cost of care or to provide free dental care. Often it is also the first opportunity dentists have to explain to parents that through use of relaxation dentistry and sedation dentistry children do overcome their fear of the dentist or of dental care. By working together, a committed dentist and a child’s parents can find ways to break through the barriers to care and get quality dental care for their children.

It is very rare that we see a parent who is indifferent to the possibilities to obtain quality dental care for their children. In those cases. we may be limited in the options we can make available. In other cases – the vast majority – we can help parents to become aware of and to utilize a range of local programs and ideas that will help them to overcome the barriers affecting their children.