Delaware soars from ‘F’ to ‘B’ on dental health

    A new report card on dental health is out and Delaware has something to celebrate. This year, Delaware scored a B on the report card–up from an F last year.

    The report card from the Pew Charitable Trusts focuses on policies that matter to low-income kids, in particular those who get care through Medicaid.

    Shelly Gehshan, who leads Pew’s Children’s Dental Campaign, said while the benefits that children get in Medicaid are consistent across states, “what varies is what portion of children in each state actually manage to get care under the program and how much the states pay dentists to provide the care.”

    In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, dentists get back less than 50 percent of their usual fees when they provide care to Medicaid-eligible kids. In Delaware, the reimbursement rate is 80 percent.

    “At one point, years ago, Delaware had the dubious distinction of having zero [private] dentists actually participating in the Medicaid program, so they’ve had a long slow climb since then,” Gehshan said.

    Delaware’s dental director, Gregory McClure, says a fair rate helps attract more dentists.

    “If they’re not going to be getting a sufficient fee they are not going to join the Medicaid system,” he said. “So we’ve had a spectacular increase in participation of our dentists.”

    Meanwhile, Pennsylvania earned a D, an improvement over its previous grade of F.

    Pennsylvania now pays pediatricians when they incorporate oral health care into regular well-child visits.

    Cheryl Janssen, executive director of Kids Smiles, a nonprofit group in Philadelphia, said “there’s a code that a doctor can use to bill and get reimbursed for this service.”

    “It becomes a new means for a small income, so it’s not just taking time from their schedule for offering this next level of care,” she said.

    Pediatricians–and other providers–are training to give fluoride treatments to very young children in the Medicaid program. Janssen says she hopes providers will also refer parents to a local dentist–and talk with them about the importance of dental hygiene.

    The change helped Pennsylvania earn a better grade from Pew this year.

    Pew analysts also pointed to an innovative pilot program at Temple University.

    The school is training community workers to do basic-level preventive dental care–including screenings and fluoride treatments.

    Calvin Hoops, a community dental health coordinator at Esperanza Health Center in North Philadelphia, says he hopes to work with medical providers at the center to get existing patients connected to ongoing dental care.

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