Focus on the Figures: Dental Care

Every other weekThe Imprint will feature one key indicator from Kidsdata, which offers comprehensive data about the health and well being of children across California. In this installment, we look at the regular attention paid to dental care by children between age two and 17 in California.

Nationwide, youth access to oral health care is a significant problem. Approximately 4.6 million children did not obtain dental care because their families could not afford it, according to a 2011 report by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The numbers from California suggest that access to dental care is uneven from state to state. The vast majority of children in California have regular access to dental care:

CSC-graphic-Dental-Care-2014.12.23In the years 2011 and 2012, an estimated 73 percent of California children ages 2-11 and 78 percent of youth ages 12-17 had seen a dentist in the past six months.

The other end of the spectrum shows a significant divide between younger children and adolescents. About 10 percent of children between ages two and 11 had never visited a dentist; only 1 percent of adolescents had never visited a dentist.

The gap in care in the 2-11 group ranges widely around the state. The estimated percentage of children in that group who had never seen a dentist ranged from about 2 percent to 24 percent.

The reason this is important: Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children ages 6-18. Untreated dental problems, such as cavities and gum disease, can affect a child’s health and quality of life by leading to pain, nutritional and sleep problems, impaired concentration, and increased school absences, as well as lost work hours for parents.

If dental disease is not treated early, it can result in the need for more serious and expensive intervention later on. About 19 percent of all youths have one or more oral health problems, according to the 2012 National Survey of Children’s Health.

John Kelly is the editor of The Imprint.

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