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Study: 1 in 5 U.S. Kids Get No Dental Care

One in five American children in America go without dental care each year, according to a study released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States.

"The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children," released with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the DentaQuest Foundation, also finds that two thirds of the 50 states do not have effective policies in place to ensure proper access to care.

States were graded on their policies for providing dental health care to low-income families. Fifteen scored an A or a B and another 15 scored a D or an F.

Healthy Living: Oral Hygiene

The study was released to coincide with National Children's Dental Health Month.

The American Dental Association hailed the report for shedding light on the need for improved dental case for needy children. While the group does not agree with everything in the study, said Dr. Ron Tankersley, president of the ADA "it highlights some of the major policy areas that the American Dental Association and state dental societies have advocated for years -- things like increased Medicaid funding, school sealant programs and community water fluoridation."

Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign said the problem can be attacked by enacting a handful of effective policies, such cost-effective ways to help prevent problems from occurring in the first place; Medicaid improvements that enable more dentists to treat disadvantaged children; new workforce models that expand the number of qualified dental providers; and enhanced data gathering to gauge progress and improve performance

Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only six - Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina - earned a score of A. The score does not mean that all children living there have adequate care, but that politics are in place to provide and improve care.

The nine states that received a grade of B are: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

New Jersey ranked lowest in the nation, meeting only one of eight key benchmarks. Eight other states - Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming- also scored an F, meeting no more than two benchmarks.

The District of Columbia and six states - Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada and Utah - got a grade of D.

Improvements cited in the study include:

School-based sealant programs in which a protective coating is applied to teeth, Researchers say it costs cost one third as much as filling a cavity and has been shown to prevent 60 percent of cavities.

Community water fluoridation, which has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century

Minor changes in the federal Medicare program to enable and motivate more dentists to treat low-income children. Only 38 percent of Medicaid-eligible children received dental care in 2007, largely because they could not find providers willing to treat them.

The full report can be found at www.pewcenteronthestates.org/costofdelay