In the United States of America, early childhood caries (ECC) is the most common chronic childhood disease of early onset, with dental caries being the most prevalent chronic disease among children aged 6-19 years. Children without an established medical home, from low-income households, and who are uninsured have historically shown to be prone to dental caries and attribute to higher health care costs. Early recognition of these risk factors by a pediatrician helps prevent the development of medical and psychosocial complications in the child.
The cross-sectional data of the prevalence of dental caries and dental treatment trends in children and three socioeconomic risk factors, namely establishment of a medical home, household income, and child’s health insurance, were accessed from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) for the years 2016-2019. The association of the risk factors with the prevalence of dental caries and with the prevalence of dental treatment were analyzed using two-sample proportion tests and chi-square (?2) tests for dichotomous categorical variables and non-dichotomous categorical variables, respectively. Standardized residuals were calculated and analyzed as well. Furthermore, the odds ratios were calculated and utilized to quantify the influence of each category on the highly associated category with having teeth decay and not receiving dental treatment under each socioeconomic risk factor.
The results of this study revealed that the three socioeconomic factors considered have statistically significant associations with tooth decay and dental treatment. The prevalence and associative risk of tooth decay and untreated caries were the highest in the children without a medical home. Additionally, the odds of having tooth decay was >50% higher for the children from the lowest household income category (0-99% federal poverty level [FPL]) compared to those from the high household income categories (200-399% FPL and >400% FPL). Public insurance coverage was associated with the highest prevalence of dental caries and not receiving fluoride treatment. Furthermore, the likelihood of not availing dental treatment is nearly two times or more higher for the uninsured children than children having public insurance, or private insurance, or a combination of both.
Our study findings reveal that children belonging to certain socioeconomic risk categories are at a higher risk of developing dental caries and not receiving dental treatment. As a consequence, the study implies that increased support and expansion of public health insurance will benefit oral health care for the children. Pediatricians play an integral part in developing a medical home for the child by providing preventative dental care and establishing continued care through dental referrals.