By Meera Jagannathan
Some 32% of parents report that the pandemic has made it harder to get their kids preventive dental care, a new study says, with Medicaid beneficiaries more likely than privately insured people to encounter issues.
Six in 10 parents have attempted to get their child preventive dental care during the COVID-19 crisis, with a majority able to schedule appointments in a timely manner and a quarter landing their appointment after a delay, according to the national poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.
A small share (7%) weren’t able to make an appointment. Parents of Medicaid dental beneficiaries (15%) were more than three times as likely as private dental-insurance holders (4%) to report not being able to make an appointment, found the survey of 1,882 parents with at least one child aged 3 to 18.
“Because many dentists do not accept Medicaid payment, it often is difficult for parents to get dental care for their Medicaid-covered child outside the pandemic,” the report’s authors wrote. “Some Medicaid-enrolled children receive preventive dental services through school or public dental clinics, but those services have decreased during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, among the four in 10 parents who haven’t tried to get their child preventive dental care since COVID-19 broke out, reasons included not wanting to risk exposure to the coronavirus (40%), their dentist office being closed or only open for urgent visits (23%), and their child not being due for care or not having problems.
Children should see a pediatric dentist when their first tooth appears, or no later than their first birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “A check-up every six months is recommended in order [to] prevent cavities and other dental problems,” the organization adds. “However, your pediatric dentist can tell you when and how often your child should visit based on their personal oral health.”
Kids with oral-health issues are more likely to experience problems at school and miss school days, studies show . Acute or unplanned dental care is responsible for more than 34 million lost school hours every year.
The Mott Poll report’s authors said that parents worried about virus exposure should reach out to see what mitigation measures their pediatric dentist is employing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for dental settings during the pandemic suggests that dental healthcare facilities screen people for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, create a process for responding to coronavirus exposure, encourage physical distancing when possible, and implement universal personal protective equipment (PPE) use, among other measures.
The agency also encourages facilities to “prioritize the most critical dental services and provide care in a way that minimizes harm to patients from delaying care and harm to personnel and patients from potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infection,” referring to the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
One positive finding in the poll: Nearly three in 10 parents — particularly parents of Medicaid beneficiaries and children lacking dental coverage — report that their kid has made at least one improvement to their oral health habits, such as brushing, flossing or using fluoride rinse more often, or drinking sugary beverages less frequently.