Broker blog from Delta Dental

Tag: dental health

Pediatric dentistry trends in 2021: How COVID-19 has affected children’s oral health

From work to school to every errand in between, the pandemic has affected just about every aspect of daily life, and as we’ve heard over and over again, children are struggling to keep up. As NBC News reports, grades are slipping and absenteeism is soaring. Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, that absenteeism has also surfaced in other cornerstones of child development, including basic health care checkups.

Dropping numbers

Pediatric dental services were down 69% between March and May of 2020 year over year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. During this time, of course, many practices had temporarily closed their doors. The numbers began to bounce back in May but are still lower than average. Delta Dental of California and its affiliates saw nearly a 10% drop in enrollees between the ages of 3 and 18 receiving exams or dental service from 2019 to 2020.

So, why the low turnout? A few reasons:

  • Apprehensions due to the pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious answer here, but a significant factor, nonetheless. Despite the many precautions taken by health professionals, some parents are still uncomfortable leaving their bubbles just yet. A majority of Americans spent the 2020 portion of the pandemic fearful of contracting the virus, according to a YouGov study. For at-risk parents with few other options, skipping out on these errands can be their only choice.
  • Limited options. With months of closures and capacities limited, simply securing an appointment can be difficult, never mind one at a convenient time. Balancing a home that is suddenly now an office and a school can leave few options for exhausted parents to get their children in the dentist’s chair. Additionally, needed care that might’ve been detected in a school clinic setting may go unnoticed with so many schools still closed. Medicaid beneficiaries are even more likely to struggle with these limitations, according to a poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.
  • Low priority. While small dental procedures are sometimes seen as easy to put off for children who still have baby teeth, there can be long-term effects. Left untreated, cavities can turn to abscesses or hinder the growth of healthy adult teeth.
  • Socioeconomic status. Perhaps the most concerning trend, however, is that of the deepening inequities in health care. The number of children without insurance hit a historic high in 2016 – well before the pandemic hit – and has continued to rise steadily since then, according to a study by Georgetown University. The pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated these issues.

Health care and wealth gaps

As the wealth and health care gap widens due to the pandemic, so do the many ways that such disparities trickle down to the nation’s children. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, some of the biggest setbacks include:

  • Food deserts. Lack of healthy food options disproportionately affects low-income communities and nearly half of all students rely on free or reduced-price lunches. With schools closed, many families are forced to choose cheap and unhealthy options
  • Unprecedented job loss. With unemployment on the rise, so is lack of insurance or gaps in coverage. For unemployed or underemployed parents, losing employer sponsored coverage can mean unaffordable out-of-pocket costs for themselves and their children. Roughly 6.3% of the U.S. population remains unemployed, as reported in February 2021 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Vicious cycle. A 2020 study by the Journal of Dental Research indicated that nearly half of the people who lost dental insurance during the pandemic will likely remain uninsured. This number is estimated to be even higher in states without Medicaid expansion.

Delta Dental and pediatric care

Delta Dental has been making strides to improve health and give back to our young and at-risk neighbors. In 2019, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation provided nearly $20 million in funding to community organizations ranging from health centers to food banks. Many of the grant recipients are focused on pediatric health, including the Children’s Medical Center Foundation in Dallas, Texas, Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida in Ft Myers, Florida and Healthy Smiles for Kids (HSK) of Orange County, California.

In 2019, the Foundation funded a program through HSK called Prevention, Outreach, Education and Teledentistry (POET), which helps kids receive a comprehensive six-month dental check-up at their school, pediatric office or community sites. With this funding, the program was able to care for more than 25,000 underserved children.

Additionally, Delta Dental launched new teledentistry options this year, including an app called Toothpic. The program is intended to help patients, especially those struggling to make appointments, such as busy parents, get advice from a licensed dentist without leaving home or having to make a real-time appointment. With Toothpic, users simply answer a few questions and snap a photo of problem area. Within 24 hours, they’ll receive custom advice that includes options, costs and information on where they can find a Delta Dental dentist.

What’s next

The good news is that unemployment numbers are gradually dropping while COVID-19 vaccinations steadily rise. While this past year’s statistics may feel somber, they don’t have to be the final word. Affordable health care options like Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit for children, are more important than ever, as is education about the importance of dental health.

Grin! for Kids: a value-added resource for family dental plans

Educating families about dental care in creative ways raises prospects for buy-in to a Delta Dental plan. The way to engage children in dental care is to give them opportunities to learn about taking care of the teeth, gums and mouth so their smiles are healthy.

Grin! for Kids is a coloring and activity book with fun, educational projects for children in grades K‑5. It is a free resource that adds value to a Delta Dental plan. The book can be printed out at home for easy access, as parents show children about preventive care in taking advantage of plan benefits.

Each issue of Grin! for Kids, available in English and Spanish, contains new ideas and information that families can share as they maintain regular visits to their dentist under their plan.

Dental care is an important part of overall health

Dental health is about more than just dental health. As the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America put it: “…oral health is integral to general health. You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities.”

Not surprisingly, then, neglecting dental health can impact more than just teeth and gums. While a common perception is that poor dental health affects only the mouth, it has also been associated with a variety of general health conditions.

While there isn’t conclusive evidence that poor dental health causes these conditions, studies have linked certain dental conditions, such as periodontal gum disease, to stroke and bacterial pneumonia.

The link between poor dental health and heart disease is particularly strong. For instance, a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation suggests that gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack by almost 50%. And in the same issue of the journal, it was reported that there’s increasing evidence for an association between gum and heart disease.

For women who are pregnant, poor oral health may affect not only their health but the health of their babies as well. For instance, a 2016 study found a possible link between gum disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including premature deliveries and babies with low weight at birth.

Oral health issues can also be symptoms of serious health conditions. For example, dry mouth, bad breath, gum disease and new or slow-to-heal dental infections may indicate untreated diabetes. Patches or numbness in the mouth, jaw pain or difficulty chewing may signal oral cancer.

Access to dental care, then, is important not only for maintaining healthy teeth and gums but for maintaining overall wellness and ensuring that no other, more serious health issues are present.

A key to this access is having dental benefits. People who have dental benefits are not only more likely to visit the dentist than people without them, but they’re also more likely take their children to the dentist, according to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) report. The report also notes that these people experience greater overall health than people without dental insurance.

The cost of skipping this care is significant. Each dollar spent on preventive dental care can save as much as $50 later on costly restorative treatments, such as fillings and crowns. And each year, $45 billion is lost in productivity due to dental disease, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So when discussing dental health, remember — it’s about much more than dental health.

Grin! offers clients and their employees a free and fun wellness resource

Encourage your clients to brighten their smiles — and their days — with Delta Dental’s fun, informative and free e‑magazine: Grin!

Available in English and Spanish, this quarterly publication is full of useful and entertaining content, such as:

  • The latest news on dental care — including what to do during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Advice from experts
  • First looks at innovative technology
  • Fun features
  • Healthy recipes, and more

And because dental health is strongly tied to overall health, Grin! also explores how many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and depression, are related to dental care. In fact, Grin! explains how allergies and oral health are related in the recent summer issue.

See for yourself: Check out the latest edition of Grin! here. And it’s easy to subscribe. With just one click, your clients and their employees can receive all that Grin! has to offer, four times per year. 

Healthy, happy employees are the key to a productive workplace, and Grin! can help. Why not offer it your clients today? 

And if they do choose to subscribe to Grin!, be sure to remind them to download this free poster that they can use to promote this great resource to their employees.

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