The Dental Crisis in Florida

***UPDATE*** November 30, 2012  In an effort to improve oral health in Florida, one of the largest counties in the state voted this week to add fluoride back to the public water supply.  The decision was voted on by the Pinellas County Commission, with a 6-1 verdict in support of the mineral most believe to help prevent tooth decay.  Fluoride was removed from the drinking water in October, 2011 when officials were swayed by anti-fluoride residents who believe it is harmful and that the county shouldn’t make personal health decisions for them.  The elections held earlier this month placed two new commissioners who ran on a pro-fluoride platform on the board.  Fluoride will be added back to the water in March 2013.  About 73% of Americans drink fluoridated water currently.

A recent report from the Florida Public Health Institute shows that many Floridians go without routine dental care because they can’t afford it.  Instead, they opt to visit the emergency room for a number of preventable conditions, costing the state approximately $88 million, as reported in the healthnewsflorida.org article, “Lack of preventive dental coverage ends up costing state: report.”  In 2010 alone, there were over 115,000 emergency-room visits, stemming from dental situations that could have been avoided with proper oral hygiene and routine dental care.  Almost a third of that figure was charged to Medicaid, leading many to question if the same amount of money could have been used to prevent the visits.

Dr. Claude Earl Fox, executive director of the institute and co-chair of the Oral Health Florida coalition, stated that they wanted to look at why these ER visits were happening, as a vast majority occurred during normal business hours when dental offices are open.  The report described several conclusions, including:

  • Medicare and Florida Medicaid do not cover preventative or restorative services for adults.  This means many put off routine care, often resulting in the need for emergency treatment.  ERs are required by law to accept all patients, leading many to seek services there.
  • Only 8% of Florida dentists accept Medicaid, which covers preventative and restorative treatments of children, because the reimbursements are so low (one of the lowest in the nation, actually).  Several counties have no dentists who accept Medicaid.
  • Many feel they cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses for dental care if they do not qualify for Medicaid, leading them to avoid treatment all together.
  • State budget cuts to county health departments have significantly limited the opening of much needed dental clinics to meet demand for services.

Dr. Frank Catalanotto, professor and chair of the University of Florida’s Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science and co-chair of Oral Health Florida, claims that Florida is nearly at the bottom in almost all indicators of oral health for children and adults.  He believes the state needs to stop viewing dental care as an optional add-on to health care, and treat it as a very necessary, preventative practice that is crucial to the well-being of all Floridians.

If you do not qualify for Medicaid, and fear that you cannot afford routine dental care, research your local dentists.  You may be surprised how many are willing to work out a payment plan that fits your financial needs.  At Miami Dental Sedation Spa, the first priority is always the patient.  Investigate your options and be sure not to neglect your oral health and overall well-being.

Written by Mark Paulsort

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