More than half of Minnesota third-graders have had a cavity.
That’s according to the state’s first comprehensive oral health plan, stemming from a 2010 survey of more than 1,500 third-graders in 40 public schools.
Chris Carroll of Winona’s Pediatric Dental Care said he didn’t know if the study accurately reflects the state of young mouths in Winona County, but said he has no reason to think it doesn’t.
“I wouldn’t argue with that,” Carroll said. “They’ve looked at a lot of kids.”
Of the 55 percent of third-graders found to be affected by tooth decay, students who qualified for free or reduced lunches were one-and-a-half times more likely than other students to have cavities and almost three times more likely to have them go untreated, according to the study.
Those findings and others have prompted state officials to create the oral health plan, which calls for solutions ranging from providing school-based dental-sealant services, increasing water fluoridation and enhancing the dental workforce, among other measures.
Carroll, a handful of other Winona dentists and more from across the state are scheduled to gather today in St. Paul as part of the annual Dental Day to address one of the solutions in the plan: increasing use of public insurance programs.
They plan to ask lawmakers to raise the reimbursement rate for dental care under Medical Assistance — the state’s Medicaid program — to 75 cents.
Carroll said he’s reimbursed through the program about 37 cents for every dollar of work that he charges. Most Minnesota dentists need to be reimbursed at least 65 cents to break even, Carroll said.
“We have to at least cover our overhead or we go broke,” he said. “The grocer wouldn’t be willing to sell a product for 37 cents if it cost him 65 cents to buy.”
If the reimbursement rates are raised, Carroll said, more dentists might be willing to accept patients covered by Medical Assistance and therefore increase dental access to and provide more services to low-income families.
“It’s the undeserved who are suffering for it,” Carroll said. “It’s embarrassing that in a state that considers itself progressive, our reimbursement rate for medical assistance in dental care is one of the lowest in the United States.”
The barriers to dental care not only have long-term health consequences but create significant costs. About $148 million was spent on emergency dental care in Minnesota between 2007 and 2010 for preventable, non-traumatic conditions, according to the Department of Health.
That money, Carroll said, could be spent to raise the reimbursement rate and prevent many of those emergency incidents.