Access to Dental Care Makes a Difference for Kids and Adults

This post was co-written by Katya Mauritson, the Dental Director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Sara Schmitt, Director of Community Health Policy at CHI

Making it easier for adults to get to a dentist is good for their oral health — and also for their children.  

These are among the findings of a first-of-its-kind analysis from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Health institute (CHI), released in recognition of February as Children’s Dental Health Month.

We teamed up on this effort because we believe that sound data and solid analysis lead to better health policies. CDPHE collects most of the data that were used in this analysis. CHI provided analysis of the data and policy options. Our teams worked together to understand what the data mean for improving children’s oral health.

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We analyzed whether oral health among Colorado children between the ages of one and 14 could be improved by expanding access to dental care for their parents and caregivers. The answer: Yes.

Our analysis found that children whose parents or caregivers had a dental visit:

  • Are more likely to have excellent, very good or good teeth.
  • Are more likely to have seen a dentist for preventive care in the past year.
  • Are less likely to delay or go without needed dental care.

Data also show that children whose parents or caregivers got dental care are less likely to drink sugary beverages. And while positive effects of adult dental care on kids happen in rural and urban areas, they are more pronounced in rural areas.

Improving children’s oral health is important for their health. Cavities are the most common chronic disease of childhood — and there is a strong connection between oral health and overall health, as well as academic achievement. Regular dental care, especially evidence-based preventive services like sealants and fluoride varnish, sets up a child for a lifetime of good health.

Colorado lawmakers are doing their part. The state has expanded Medicaid to include an adult dental benefit, invested in loan repayment for dentists and hygienists working in underserved communities and allowed hygienists to perform more care as a way to increase access in underserved communities.

Despite these efforts, many Colorado kids still don’t get sufficient dental care. This new research by CHI and CDPHE adds evidence to the idea that multi-generational, family-based approaches toward health show great promise.

Find Sara Schmitt on Twitter: @CHI_SaraS

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