SEATTLE - Washington gets a 'B' on a new national report card
that compares how states are doing in providing dental care to children. Pew Center on the States
based its grades on such things as: availability of tooth sealants and water fluoridation; Medicaid policies that encourage dentists to treat lower-income children; and the overall number of dentists available to keep up with the demand.
Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign
, says states need to anticipate the effects of health care reform, which will be major, in terms of dental health.
"And what that means in real terms is that by 2014, an additional 5.3 million children will have dental coverage. That's good, except for the fact that this report card shows that states are basically not ready to serve them."
A shortage of dentists is one thing that keeps Washington from getting an 'A,' according to Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
. His group is working in Washington and six other states to create dental therapy programs, training people, much like nurse practitioners in medicine, to do some of the work.
"In Washington state, one of every six residents - or more than a million people - live in a designated dental health professional shortage area. Close to 50 million Americans live in places where there aren't enough dentists and millions more can't get access to care because it's just too expensive or they don't have coverage."
Not all dentists like the idea of turning duties over to dental therapists, but Speirn says it's a cost-effective option. The Pew report says more than 16 million children from low-income families do not get annual dental checkups.
In the report, about half of the states earned 'A' or 'B' grades, and Gehshan notes that 22 states have raised their grades in the past year. She says it's proof that, even in tough budget times, states are finding it worthwhile to get kids to the dentist regularly, to prevent more serious health problems.
The report is online at www.pewcenteronthestates.org