It’s a common misconception to believe that baby teeth are not important to a child’s lifelong dental health. In fact, tooth decay in children can lead to poor eating habits, speech problems, oral infections and periodontal disease. Keeping baby teeth healthy ensures that permanent teeth come in properly and leads to good oral health.
But many children don’t receive the appropriate dental care they need. A 2010 study from the Pew Research Center shows that New Jersey ranks at the bottom of all the states in dental care for children. Key problems include a lack of use of fluoride and sealants for children, and a low percentage of Medicaid-enrolled children who receive dental care.
UnitedHealthcare is working to address the problem in New Jersey by educating primary care physicians to perform oral health screenings on very young children and apply fluoride varnish. This helps us identify children at risk for dental problems and help them get the dental care they need.
We’re also working on innovative programs across the country to help us find better ways to address children’s dental health, particularly for children enrolled in Medicaid.
For example, UnitedHealthcare recently helped Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry in Philadelphia launch Project Engage. The program is designed to improve children’s oral health by creating an oral health registry that will use dental claims information and operating and emergency department histories to identify children most in need of dental care. The children and their families will then be contacted by a community health worker who will send the family information, assist in scheduling dental appointments and help them receive dental care at clinics or at home by public health dental hygienists.
|Yvonne Ganem volunteers her time at the Project Engage dental screenings|
Oral health is a strong indicator of overall health. Research has shown that gum disease can contribute to and worsen health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. Starting good oral health habits at a young age is an important step in preventing disease later in life.
For more information about dental health and tips for keeping children’s teeth and gums healthy, visit mydentaluhc.com.