By Brady Blackburn, Content Marketing Manager, NC Oral Health Collaborative
February was Children’s Dental Health Month. This awareness month reinforces the importance of access to early, quality oral health care to overall health and well-being as an adult. The earlier a child sees a dentist, the more likely their oral health needs can be maintained by less expensive, non-invasive measures. A lack of oral health care during a child’s early years can lead to unnecessary burdens on the child and family. As the saying goes, “Dentistry is not expensive, neglect is.”
The North Carolina Oral Health Collaborative and its parent organization, the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation are proud to be a part of the Care4Carolina coalition. By closing the coverage gap, it is expected that hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians would have increased access to dental care, reduction in untreated tooth decay and improved oral health-related behaviors.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, and its effects stem far beyond the mouth. From increased heart disease risk to impacts on education and overall development, poor oral health during childhood can result in lifelong consequences for an individual’s overall health and well-being.
If you visit a hospital with a toothache, you will likely be prescribed an antibiotic and an opioid and sent on your way, because hospitals are typically ill-equipped to handle oral disease. The opioid will numb the pain and the antibiotic may reduce the infection for a while, but oral disease doesn’t go away on its own. The root cause will remain unaddressed and may land you back in the hospital in a few months.
Even for children with baby teeth, poor oral health can lead to large medical bills and negative health impacts, both in the mouth and throughout the body, that extend into adulthood. Beyond the mouth, poor oral health can also impact a child’s social skills, education, and development. School absences in North Carolina are nearly three times higher among children with untreated tooth decay, and nationwide, 51 million school hours are lost annually to dental disease.
North Carolina’s Medicaid program does cover dental services, for both children and adults. There are still significant access and equity issues for the uninsured and underinsured in the coverage gap.