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San Diego Kids More Likely To Get Dental Care Than Others In California

A report out today says California is among the 10 worst states when it comes to getting kids in to see a dentist. Researchers with the Pew Charitable Trusts say nearly 60 percent of California children with dental coverage through Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, did not see a dentist in 2011.

Aired 6/25/13 on KPBS News.

California is among the 10 worst states when it comes to getting kids in to see a dentist. But San Diego may be setting an example for other counties in the state.

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Nearly 60 percent of children enrolled in Medi-Cal in California did not see a dentist in 2011.

But state data show kids enrolled in Medi-Cal in San Diego County fared much better. They were about 20 percent more likely to see a dentist.

Dr. Harriet Seldin, a Clairemont dentist and former president of the San Diego County Dental Society, said "a huge part of it is because everyone talks to everyone."

Seldin said health care providers, consumers and county staff meet monthly under the heading, Healthy San Diego, to discuss issues and policies affecting Medi-Cal beneficiaries. She said San Diego also has a robust system of community clinics that incorporate dental care.

"The biggest barrier is your dental IQ," Seldin said, adding that parents often don't know oral hygiene problems can develop early on.

The 2009 California Health Interview Survey, a biennial study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, suggests parents throughout the state and in San Diego held off on making dentist appointments because they felt their children were too young or shouldn't go unless they had a problem.

The American Dental Association recommends children see a dentist within six months of getting their first tooth and every six months after that.

But Jane Koppelman, the research director for Pew's children's dental campaign, said the situation is more complex.

"Dental literacy is always an issue, but when 60 percent of your kids on Medicaid are not seeing a dentist, it is more," Koppelman said. "It's always a combination of factors, but access is central to the problem."

The shaded areas represent communities that have too few dentists, according to federal standards. Dr. Harriet Seldin says San Diego has one of the highest dentist-to-patient ratios in the nation.

Some south San Diego neighborhoods are considered dentist shortage areas.

The report cites a nationwide shortage of dentists as contributing to the lapse in dental care for 14 million U.S. children in 2011. According to the report, 45 million Americans live in areas that have too few dentists.

In California, less than 3 percent of the state's population lives in a community the federal government has deemed a dentist shortage area. Federal health officials say there should be one dentist per 5,000 residents. In San Diego, the Golden Hill, Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan neighborhoods have too few dentists.

But the study's authors say access is still an issue in areas with enough dentists. Many providers don't accept Medi-Cal or are overburdened if they do.

And when the state expands Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act, that burden could grow.

"It may exacerbate the access problem," Koppelman said. "I mean, it's great that more children are going to be getting dental coverage, but dental coverage doesn't always translate into getting care."

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Avatar for user 'nyscof'

nyscof | June 25, 2013 at 7:11 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

The problem is that dentistry is a monopoly that has become a luxury in the US. While dentists are lobbying for more dollars from wealthier Americans e.g. tooth whitening, botox, giving flu shots and vaccinations, 80% of them refuse Medicaid patients. 130 million Americans don't have dental insurance. Many of those with insurance can't afford dentistry's out of pocket expenses.

The solution is to allow Dental Therapists to work in the US as they have successfully done for decades in other first world countries. They will fill, drill and pull teeth in mouths and areas where dentists refuse to go and will cost less because their education only takes 2 or 3 years. The first US dental therapists are working in Alaska and Minnesota

However, organized dentistry, with its pockets full of corporate cash, lobby against DTs in every state that proposes legalizing them because dentists don't want any viable group infringing upon its lucrative monopoly

This dental health crisis has occurred under the guidance of the American Dental Association. It's time to mandate that all dentists accept more low income people if dentists continue to lobby against Dental Therapists. We can’t allow organized dentistry to continue to offer false remedies, such as fluoridation, as a fix for lack of dental care.

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Avatar for user 'Atlas'

Atlas | June 26, 2013 at 2:55 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

There are over 100 areas in CA designated as dental "Health Professional Shortage Areas". These are mostly in rural areas of California and cover approximately 9% of the state's population. Find and explore these designated areas in the California Healthcare Atlas at

The specific HPSA referenced in the article is at

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Avatar for user 'Brenna'

Brenna | July 8, 2013 at 10:48 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps one of the reasons that First 5 San Diego invests about $3.4 million annually in oral health for children ages 5 and under. To promote continued oral care, First 5 San Diego has supported parent oral health education as part of its Oral Health Initiative (launched in 2005) and its Healthcare Access Initiative (launched in 2004). First 5 has also run PSA's on children's oral health and participates in community fairs around the county. One of the key messsages of these programs is regular dental checkup for children beginning at age one (which is the standard of the American Pediatric Dental Association). First 5 San Diego also provides free dental treatment services to young children and pregnant women in poverty -- over 10,000 children and 4,000 pregnant women in FY 11-12. I don’t know how much credit First 5 San Diego can take in this accomplishment, but these programs reach thousands of parents and children annually and are certainly key contributors to San Diego County measuring 20% better than statewide figures in children's access to dental care.

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