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According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic disease among children in the U.S., and is twice as common among poor children as those with higher family incomes. This is a preventable health problem that can significantly affect children’s health, ability to concentrate in school, and quality of life. With half of children experiencing tooth decay by the age of 8, beginning dental checkups early in life is essential. Some professional associations recommend that a child have his or her first dental visit by age 1.

Preventive services such as regular dental health screenings may not always be available to those children who need them most; twice as many children lack dental insurance as lack medical insurance. In Federal Fiscal Year 2001, only 21 percent of children eligible for dental services under the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program received a preventive dental service.

Problems related to oral health are more common among particular populations, including Black and Hispanic children, as well as children from low-income families. Analysis of the 2002 National Health Interview Survey found that 76 percent of children with family incomes at or above 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level saw a dentist in the past year, compared to 62 percent of low-income children.

Graph: Children Receiving an EPSDT Preventive Dental Service[d]


Graph: Children Receiving Dental Care[d]