Having poor dental health can affect a person’s broader well being, as researchers have found links between poor dental hygiene and conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Despite this, American policy has traditionally treated dental care as wholly separate from health care — and it’s causing a crisis for many children growing up in rural America.
As AlterNet’s Anna Sanford reports, America’s approach to dental care has been particularly destructive in Kentucky, which has the “highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth” and where children are regularly found to have multiple cavities when they’re as young as four years old.
Among other things, Sanford notes that Medicaid gives individual states a choice on whether to provide adults with dental coverage — and dental coverage only became mandatory for children on Medicaid after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
What’s more, millions of Americans often forgo dental care and only get treatment when a major problem erupts by going to the emergency room. Because health care and dental care are treated separately in the United States, it costs hospitals a fortune to treat dental emergencies that they are not naturally equipped to handle.
Compounding this problem is the fact that so many states opt to not to cover adults’ dental care through Medicaid, as only 15 states offer full dental benefits, and five don’t even offer any dental-related coverage whatsoever.
Sanford also points out that the Republicans’ proposed health care bill would make matters even worse than they are now, and she points to an analysis from the American Dental Association showing that “Obamacare’s requirement to provide dental care for children under 19 will be rolled back, and the 5.4 million adults who gained coverage under the Medicaid expansion will lose all dental benefits.”