New Report Shows Pennsylvania Is Failing Its Children's Dental Health Needs

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A report published recently by the Pew Center on the States showed that Pennsylvania was one of nine states that met two or fewer benchmarks for providing basic preventative dental care for disadvantaged children. The report notes that many disadvantaged children face additional challenges related to lost school time, learning challenges, impaired nutrition and health, worsened job prospects and even premature death. The report also notes that this is a problem that can be solved, and in many cases investing in preventative care is a cost-saving measure that may relieve strained state healthcare systems.

A failing grade is bad, obviously

Pennsylvania was one of nine states given failing grades by the Pew Center on the States in its report "The Cost of Delay." Local dentist, Dr. Babak Firouzi, a Pittsburgh family dentist is one of the many disappointed with the results and believes there are many solutions to address the needs of children’s failing dental care.

“A failing grade is bad, obviously,” claims Dr. Firouzi. “We need to do more for the children of Pennsylvania."

The report looks at the preventative dental care and treatment given to disadvantaged children in the States. According to the Pew Center, about one in five children go without dental care each year, a gap that the States should work to fill by providing basic preventative and corrective dental care, but two-thirds of the states do not have effective policies in place.

The eight benchmarks for adequate dental care for disadvantaged children were:

  •     Providing sealant programs in high-risk schools
  •     Adopting new rules for hygienists in school sealant programs
  •     Fluoridating water supplies
  •     Providing dental care to Children enrolled in Medicaid
  •     Improving Medicaid reimbursements for dentists
  •     Reimbursing other medical providers for basic preventative dental care
  •     Authorizing new primary care dental providers
  •     Tracking data on children's dental health

But the Pew report identifies four key factors for improving dental care for disadvantaged children: 1) increase school-based sealant programs, 2) increase fluoridation in water supplies, 3) Medicaid improvements that motivate dentists to provide care for low-income kids, and 4) expand workforce to allow hygienists and other medical personnel to act as primary care dental professionals for low-income children.

Dr. Firouzi said, "Around Pittsburgh, we have good fluoridation of water, so we are tempted to believe it is not a big issue. In other parts of the state, such as Philadelphia and its surrounding area, fluoridation is less common." The Pew Center says that for every $1 spent on fluoridation $38 of dental treatment is avoided. Although legislation is pending to improve fluoridation of water in the state, it has been stalled in committee for nearly a year. Dr. Firouzi provides fluoride treatments to children at the Center for Aesthetic Dentistry, and said, "Fluoridation of water is a no-brainer: it's a clear benefit to public dental health. I cannot understand why this legislation is being held up."

Pennsylvania was criticized for its poor use of sealant programs, and under-utilization of dental care by Medicaid-enrolled children. The state was also criticized for its poor fluoridation program, which reaches just over half of the state's population. The Pew Center says states should shoot for reaching 75% of its population with this low-cost, highly effective preventative measure.

Failing grades were given to states that met two or fewer benchmarks for dental care, while states received an A for meeting 6-8 of the benchmarks. Only six states received an "A": Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. The other states receiving an "F" were: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

About Babak Firouzi, DMD

Dr. Babak Firouzi is the primary dentist at the Center for Aesthetic Dentistry in Pittsburgh, providing aesthetic and general dentistry to patients of all ages. He received his Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 1994. In addition to his DMD, he has received advanced training in cosmetic and functional dentistry from the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI). He is a member of the American Dental Association (ADA), the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), the Pediatric Dental Associates (PDA), the International Association of Comprehensive Aesthetics (IACA), and the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).

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