Low-Income Students May Lose Dental Care Due To COVID-19 Related School Closings

DentaQuest Urges Action to Ensure Children Continue Receiving Critical Oral Health Care, Supporting Overall Health and Reducing Disparities
 

As schools begin returning to virtual and in-person learning, many low-income, Medicaid-enrolled students are at risk of losing school-based dental care, DentaQuest and the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement warned today.

Many school districts across the country have had to postpone school-based oral health (SBOH) programs, and others are considering the same. SBOH has become a crucial way to connect low-income students and families with dental care, providing services such as screenings, sealant application, fluoride treatment, cleanings and diagnostics. For some students, SBOH is their first encounter with a dental provider. For others, it is their only source of dental care and only access point for health care in general.

“We provide Medicaid dental coverage to more than 27 million people nationwide, the majority of whom are children,” said Steve Pollock, president and CEO of DentaQuest, the leading dental benefits administrator in the country. “The ability for children to access oral health care at school or during an after-school program is a game-changer for families, especially those with more limited resources.”

DentaQuest and the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, which together make school-based care possible for more than 100,000 students across the country, are calling on school districts and oral health stakeholders to come together to help preserve school-based access to care for children and families who rely on their dental programs each year.

Many school districts are open to exploring alternative options. Expanding the use of teledentistry, setting up alternate locations for care and ensuring that proper infection control measures are incorporated in all in-person care settings are all being evaluated and tested.

“We know that oral health directly impacts a child’s overall health, and ensuring children have preventive dental care will help address deep disparities in health care,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute. “We urge communities to find new and creative ways to continue offering school-based oral health to students, especially during these challenging times. We will continue to be a source of information and support for these efforts.”

Increasingly, research has shown poor oral health has a direct link to higher risks of chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease. Poor oral health is also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, dementia, adverse birth outcomes and respiratory health.

Some key findings related to SBOH from the DentaQuest Partnership include:

  • SBOHs are a primary access point to care. School-based dental services are an important access point for children who might not otherwise be able to see a dentist. Fifty percent of children who received dental care in schools did not see a dentist in the prior year.
  • SBOHs lead to further care. Among children who had not seen a dentist in the year prior, more than a third went on to see a dentist after their school-based service.
  • Schools are an important access point for preventive care. Of children who had a school-based dental service, 80% received a fluoride varnish application, 68% received a comprehensive dental examination, 60% had x-rays or intraoral images taken and 42% had sealants placed.
  • SBOH benefits the youngest kids most. Elementary aged children (ages 5-10) are the most likely to have a school-based dental service (making up 60% of the school-based claims), followed by middle school ages (31%) and then high school ages (9%)
  • Better oral health helps school performance. It is estimated that more than 51 million school hours are missed annually due to dental conditions.