Room to Grow: An Analysis of Dental and Health Care Claims in Medicaid-Enrolled Children in Arizona

Published 07/12/2022

Arizona offers a comprehensive Medicaid dental care benefit, including assignment to a dental home, for children under 21 whose family income falls below a certain threshold. However, the state continues to lag behind the nation when it comes to children’s oral health ― more than half (52%) of Arizona’s kindergarteners have tooth decay compared to 36% nationally. 

A new joint study by CareQuest Institute, Arizona Oral Health Coalition, and Children’s Action Alliance examined patterns of use of medical and dental services in Arizona children enrolled in Medicaid. The study found that despite recommendations that children see a dentist by their first birthday, less than 1% of Medicaid-enrolled children had a dental claim before the age of 1. Further, only about one in four children aged 1–3 years had a dental claim. Other findings include: 

  • Most Medicaid-enrolled children had at least one health care claim during the study period, but there were differences by age, race, and ethnicity in the use of health services. 
  • The youngest age group (0–3 years) had the greatest percentage of major restorative dental care of all the age groups.  
  • American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) children were least likely to have a claim (48.4%), and traveled the longest distances of children in any racial group to receive health care.  

The authors write that “Arizona struggles with recruiting and sustaining dentists, particularly in rural and low-income areas,” with four counties lacking a pediatric dentist enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program. 

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