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Children with Public Health Insurance Less Likely to Get Emergency Appointments with Dentists & Ohio Falls Behind in Important Dental Health Markers

Posted on May 24, 2011

A study published this week in Pediatrics found that children who have public health insurance are less likely than children with private health insurance to get an appointment in a dental emergency. The study had six research assistants call 85 Illinois dental practices twice pretending to be mothers of a 10-year-old boy with a fractured front tooth, with the only difference in the two calls being whether the child was enrolled in the public Medicaid and CHIP dental program or private Blue Cross dental coverage. Only 36.5% of calls regarding children in the Medicaid and CHIP program were able to obtain an appointment, compared to 95.4% of calls regarding children with private insurance. The difference remained even when only considering the 41 dental practices enrolled in the Medicaid program, as children with public insurance were 18.2 times more likely to not receive an appointment from Medicaid enrolled providers compared to children with private insurance. An article in US News on the study notes that Medicaid reimburses all emergency dental care, regardless of whether the provider seen is enrolled in a Medicaid program.

Ohio recently received a grade of “B” for access to dental care for children from the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign. An article in The Plain Dealer states that while Ohio scores better than the national standards in sealant programs in high-risk schools, fluoridated water access, dental care used by Medicaid-enrolled children, payment for preventative services and keeping records on children’s dental health, Ohio children lack access to primary dental care providers, and Ohio dentists are insufficiently reimbursed by Medicaid. Some policymakers suggest licensing a new type of dental care provider, called a dental therapist, to address the shortage of dentists in Ohio and other states.

Schubert Center Faculty Associate Dr. James Lalumandier directs the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program in conjunction with Cleveland Metropolitan School District to improve dental health and sealant coverage for second, third and sixth grade students. A policy brief on his work can be downloaded here. A video on the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program can be viewed here.

Page last modified: February 24, 2014