Does Pediatric Oral Care Result in Higher Health Expenses? Dentists Weigh in

Several important issues in pediatric dental care have been up for debate recently, especially in regards to how it affects future dental needs. Now, dentists are weighing in on the importance of dental coverage and how early preventative dental care can affect kids’ need for dental procedures in the future.

New findings confirm that dental issues that affect eating, sleeping, and school performance are more common in children without dental coverage.

“Coverage counts,” Meg Booth, executive director for the Children’s Dental Health Project, told U.S. News and World Report of the findings.

Further surveys revealed that almost 13% of parents said that their children who needed dental care in the last year weren’t able to receive it due to a lack of insurance coverage. The rate among uninsured children was 26%, as compared to those with insurance, where the rate was approximately 9%.

Booth explained that when children have dental coverage, they’re “far less likely to have serious oral health problems that can cause pain and disrupt their lives.”

But another study has provided an interesting counterpoint, revealing that early pediatric dental visits ultimately result in more spending on tooth decay treatments and other dental procedures. Americans already spend $1.4 billion annually on teeth whitening products, but early dental care may make adults more likely to spend more on general dentistry procedures, too.

Dentists want to stress that despite the data, visits to the dentist before the age of two don’t actually worsen oral health.

“We don’t think that going to the dentist is somehow causing these kids to have tooth decay,” said Michael Morrisey, professor and head of the health policy and management department at the Texas AandM School of Public Health.

Dentists, like any other service-providing professionals — 72% of which believe they can have a positive impact on their businesses and customers — want to help their clients. Morrisey explained that many professionals, himself included, were surprised at the overall lack of benefits discovered. He added that the limited scope of the survey wasn’t ideal.

“It is possible that…the babies and toddlers already had some sign or risk factor of tooth decay. To really answer the question of efficacy of early routine checkups, one should do randomized clinical trials,” Morrisey said.

The study, though spanning data from 19,658 children, only included kids on Alabama’s Medicaid. In addition, oral hygiene behaviors such as brushing and water fluoridation weren’t considered as factors in the research.

“All I can recommend is that parents follow the advice of their child’s dentist or health care provider,” Morrisey said.

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