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Reason to Smile: More PA Kids Expected to See the Dentist

March 5, 2014- Tom Joseph
HARRISBURG - It is the most common chronic childhood disease, and across Pennsylvania and the nation some new requirements could help take a bite out of kids' tooth decay.

Pediatric dental care is one of the essential benefits under the Affordable Care Act, meaning childhood dental care must be offered, whether it's part of a health plan or as an optional stand-alone. That should help get more children into the chair, said Dr. Paul Reggiardo, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

"We estimate the number at somewhere probably around 16 million children who do not have access to dental benefits," he said, "and lack of dental benefits is a real barrier to care for a lot of families, and for a lot of children."

As a result of the ACA, it's estimated that as many as 8.7 million people age 21 and younger will gain dental coverage nationwide by 2018.

Last year, Pennsylvania received a "D" in a national Pew study for its efforts to protect low-income children from tooth decay by offering cavity-preventing tooth sealants. Pew reported fewer than one in four high-need schools in Pennsylvania has a sealant program.

Reggiardo said tooth decay and untreated cavities in childhood can lead to serious pain, and the negative effects can spread from there.

"Kids who are suffering with pain, they're not getting adequate nutrition," he said. "Their school performance is affected. Their learning is affected. A child in pain is not going to be able to sit attentively in school and listen. And so, the implications go well beyond just having cavities."

The next major deadline under the Affordable Care Act is just weeks away, with the first open-enrollment period ending March 31 for those who want a plan this year through the health-insurance marketplace.

ACA dental-plan information is online at healthcare.gov. ADA benefit examination is at ada.org. The full Pew report is at pewstates.org.

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