Disparities in children's oral health and access to dental care

JAMA. 2000 Nov 22-29;284(20):2625-31. doi: 10.1001/jama.284.20.2625.


Dental caries can be prevented by a combination of community, professional, and individual measures including water fluoridation, professionally applied topical fluorides and dental sealants, and use of fluoride toothpastes. Yet, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Dental care is the most prevalent unmet health need in US children with wide disparities existing in oral health and access to care. Only 1 in 5 children covered by Medicaid received preventive oral care for which they are eligible. Children from low income and minority families have poorer oral health outcomes, fewer dental visits, and fewer protective sealants. Water fluoridation is the most effective measure in preventing caries, but only 62% of water supplies are fluoridated, and lack of fluoridation may disproportionately affect poor and minority children. Childhood oral disease has significant medical and financial consequences that may not be appreciated because of the separation of medicine and dentistry. The infectious nature of dental caries, its early onset, and the potential of early interventions require an emphasis on preventive oral care in primary pediatric care to complement existing dental services. However, many pediatricians lack critical knowledge to promote oral health. We recommend financial incentives for prioritizing Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment dental services; managed care accountability; integration of medical and dental professional training, clinical care, and research; and national leadership. JAMA. 2000;284:2625-2631.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comprehensive Dental Care
  • Dental Care for Children*
  • Dental Caries / complications
  • Dental Caries / economics
  • Dental Caries / epidemiology
  • Dental Caries / prevention & control
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Oral Health*
  • United States