Florida Receives a ‘D’ for Oral Health

***UPDATED: June 26, 2013*** The state of Florida is back in dentistry news, and unfortunately, it’s still bleak.  According to a new Pew Children’s Dental Campaign report, the sunshine state has the worst rate of any other state for Medicaid covered children receiving regular dental care.  In the period analyzed (2011), more than 75% of Florida’s children were affected.  Statistically, low-income children are 30% less likely to receive regular dental care, which many cite as the reason why those same kids are almost twice as likely to develop cavities as their wealthier counterparts.  The state of Florida has ranked near the bottom years when it comes to providing dental care to its poorest residents, resulting in an increase in emergency-room expenses and poor school attendance. Frank Catalanotto, professor at the University Of Florida College Of Dentistry, believes the problem stems from the fact that only 15% of Florida dentists accept Medicaid patients, due to the states exceptionally low Medicaid reimbursement rates and the complexity of paper work necessary to participate in the federally funded insurance plan.  Members of the Florida Oral Health Workforce Group are currently working with state Medicaid administrators to remedy the problem.

According to a recent Pew Children’s Dental Campaign Report, the state of Florida has improved their grade from an F to a D.  The national report was focused primarily on children’s access to sealants, which vastly improved for Florida residents after a law was passed allowing dental hygienists to perform the routine application without a dentist exam, just two years ago.  Details of the report and responses from dental experts in Florida were reported in the online newspaper, Ocala.com, article, “Fla. Improves dental grade from ‘F’ to ‘D’.”

Sealants, the plastic moldings applied to the molars of children around the age of 8, are comparable to immunizations in the dental world, according to Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.  Because molars, the back teeth used for chewing, are susceptible to cavities, they are targeted early on with preventative treatments, such as sealants (for more information on sealants, see my earlier article, “Sealants: A Simple Way to Prevent Cavities”).  Apparently, 32 out of Florida’s 67 county health departments are currently offering sealant programs in schools; however the needs of high-needs areas are still not being met.  Because the school-based programs reached less than 25% of the neediest schools, the state received a D grade in the Pew report.  Additionally, Florida is one of only 9 states that has never collected data to contribute to the National Oral Health Surveillance System.  According to Dr. Scott Tomar, a professor of community dentistry and behavioral science at the University of Florida, the only reason the state didn’t receive another ‘F’ is because the state did pass the Dental Practice Act, allowing hygienists to place sealants.  And because the sunshine state is notorious for bad Medicaid reimbursements, few dentists accept participants, decreasing access further.

The report wasn’t all bad, as some experts see the information as a rallying cry for improvement.  Additionally, the study did find that 78% of Floridians have fluoridated water, which has been consistently proven to improve oral health, a definite positive.  Roderick King, executive director of the Florida Public Health Institute, believes that working together at the local level can improve the situation greatly.  For example, King points out that every child is required to have a physical exam to go to school, but not an oral health exam.  There is potential there to shift the public perception of oral health, and prioritize the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene.  The Pew Report awarded majority of states the grade of C, D, and F, while only five states received an A: Maine, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Alaska, and North Dakota.

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