Dental care is out of reach for 1.1 million Georgia children, according to Georgia Tech researcher Nicoleta Serban.
Dental issues like tooth decay and cavities are the single most common, chronic disease facing children. Left untreated, they result in “pain, infection, distraction from learning, and missed school days,” in addition to causing nutritional deficits for children when it becomes too painful to chew, according to industry publication RDH Magazine.
Nationally, more than one in six kids have some kind of untreated dental issue — like cavities or tooth decay.
The official journal of the Academic Pediatric Association cites, “public policies that hinder access to oral health care,” as one of the top barriers to better oral healthcare for children.
Georgia should be their case study.
On Monday, GT researcher Serban told lawmakers that “Georgia is in need of transforming the dental care system” at a meeting of the House Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper.
Serban’s report focused on the various ways Georgia’s children cannot get adequate access to the dental care they need, Georgia Health News reports. This includes 500,000 children whose families do not qualify for public insurance programs like Medicaid and PeachCare, and also cannot afford to pay out of pocket for dental care.
There are also another 600,000 children who do qualify for public insurance programs, but live so far away from the nearest dentist — 30 miles in an urban area, 45 miles in a rural area — that access is difficult.
A 2012 report from Georgia State University also quantified just how few practicing dentists there are in Georgia — 4.4 per 10,000 residents — placing the state 49th in the nation.
Dental care may not feel like the next hot issue folks should call their elected officials about, but it is another piece of the puzzle when we look at how Georgia’s kids are doing. Succeeding in school, for instance, becomes a lot harder when untreated, and painful cavities make it hard to focus, hard to sleep and hard to eat. Not to mention the stigma and shame that can come with a less than perfect, pearly white smile in the age of braces and orthodontics.
Georgia’s children deserve to have their health and wellness invested in. It’s time for some leaders step up.