Hoosier kids’ access to dental care

Jul 1, 2013

Two-thirds of low-income Hoosier children on Medicaid did not receive dental care in 2011.

A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that in the most recent year for which data is available, 67% of Medicaid-enrolled Indiana children did not receive a dental visit – the third-highest percentage in the nation.

Pew Children’s Dental Campaign Director Shelly Gehshan says that’s because not enough dentists take Medicaid patients.

“If you’re a parent who has a child enrolled in Medicaid and that kid has a Medicaid card, all it is is a hunting license because they may never be able to find somebody who will accept that child.”

Gehshan says one way to improve the situation is to pay better Medicaid rates for dental care.  She says the state can also license a new kind of dental provider, commonly called oral health or dental therapists, the equivalent of nurse practitioners.

“A dentist or a clinic could hire a new type of provider such as a dental therapist and supervise them and they could expand the reach of that clinic or that practice so they could see more patients and do it more cost-effectively.”

Gehshan says 38% of Hoosier dentists are over 55 years old, meaning that within ten years, the state will lose a third of its dentists with not enough new ones to fully replace the loss.