Fluoride Action Network

Dental funding needs a filling in Wisconsin

Source: Wisconsin State Journal | May 15th, 2009 | EDITORIAL

[NOTE FROM FAN: According to Oral Health in Wisconsin: A Fact Sheet: “In Wisconsin, 90% of the population on public water receives fluoridated water.”]

Wisconsin can’t smile about its dental care for kids.

Nearly one in five school children has untreated tooth decay, a 2008 state survey suggests. And that contributes to more than just pain and rotten teeth.

Dental problems have been pegged as a big cause of absenteeism in Dane County schools, especially for low-income families. And missed school often leads to students falling behind. Dental problems also have been linked to higher risk for poor overall health.

Many parents need to do a better job of making sure their children brush and floss. Some programs wisely require parents to attend an oral health class before their children can get free checkups.

Yet a bigger hurdle is insufficient state funding of dental care for impoverished children. The state does a great job of offering low-income children dental coverage. But because of low reimbursements, many Wisconsin dentists don’t accept new Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus patients.

So the dental coverage often doesn’t lead to actual dental care.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel highlighted the problem this week. Wisconsin does worse than most states in access to dental care for children, the newspaper found. More than 300,000 children with what is now BadgerCare Plus insurance did not see a dentist in 2007.

State government allocates as little as $13 to $16 toward a periodic dental exam for children covered by BadgerCare Plus or Medicaid.

The State Journal did a similar report in 2006 on the problem. Some improvements have occurred since then. The percentage of children getting checkups seems to be increasing, thanks in part to the hard work of nonprofits and volunteer dentists.

Committing more money to the problem may have to wait until after the state solves its budget crisis. Yet state leaders, child advocates and dentists should still strive to boost check-ups through policy changes.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill this week making it easier for dentists from other states to get temporary licenses in Wisconsin to work at free-care clinics. And since 2006, the state has allowed dental hygienists to provide preventive services at schools and public health clinics.

Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And letting the problem fester will only increase costs in the long run.