New Report Identifies Opportunities to Expand Dental Access for Kids

Posted on: Thursday, 12/08/2016

Policy changes needed to provide essential support to Federally Qualified Health Centers 

With only 25 percent of California’s Medicaid-enrolled children under the age of six receiving preventive dental services, there is an urgent need for policymakers to better support Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), which provide dental and oral health services to children in underserved areas. That’s the message highlighted in a new policy brief released today by the UCLA School of Dentistry, First 5 LA, and Children Now, an Oakland-based children’s advocacy group.

The policy brief, Strengthening Dental Care for Children Utilizing California’s Federally Qualified Health Centers, outlines four recommendations to expand the capacity of California’s FQHCs to provide quality oral health care to young children across the state. Authors of the brief unanimously urge policymakers to provide support for the recommendations to expand FQHC capacity.

“FQHCs are a critical component of the safety net in California, and provide primary health care, including preventive dental services, to our youngest and most vulnerable children. For FQHCs to be successful in providing more children with recommended preventive oral health services, policymakers must address systemic barriers and augment support for FQHCs,” explained Dr. Jim Crall, Chair of Public Health & Community Dentistry at the UCLA School of Dentistry, Director of the UCLA-First 5 LA Oral Health Program, and lead author on a recent Health Affairs article on this topic.

“Tooth decay is an often-overlooked health problem that can impact every facet of a child’s life—often leading to poor academic achievement, deteriorating overall physical health, and social isolation,” Children Now President Ted Lempert said. “We must provide more support to California’s FQHCs so that they will be better able to prevent and address tooth decay in young children, which will improve life outcomes for California’s most vulnerable kids.”

“From encouraging preschoolers to brush their teeth daily to finding low-cost dental services, many families face challenges supporting their young children’s oral health,” said Kim Belshé, Executive Director of First 5 LA, a leading early childhood advocate and public grant-making organization. “Over the past 10 years, First 5 LA has invested in improving the dental care of kids aged zero to five, including providing additional support to FQHCs so that they can serve young children and families. Adopting and implementing this brief’s policy recommendations will help families by integrating dental and medical preventative services and ensuring all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life.”