Oral health is essential to overall health and yet untreated decay and dental caries remain a serious health issue among Florida children. Nearly half of third-grade students have dental caries and one in four have untreated decay with most being non-Hispanic Black children (34.6%). In preschool aged children (3-6 year) attending Florida’s Head Start, untreated decay and dental caries have increased by 15.4% and 6.9% respectively from 2014-2015 to 2017-2018.
Families understand the importance of preventive oral care, however, structural barriers such as cost of dental insurance, appointment wait-times, and outdated and inconsistent misinformation, prevent Medicaid-eligible families from accessing dental services. Families and children with dental benefits are more likely to visit a dentist, receive preventive care and have better overall health.
Like many states, Florida is experiencing a severe shortage and maldistribution of dentists leaving over 5.5 million residents without access to dental care. Several counties like Dixie, Glade, Lafayette, and Union, for example, do not have any licensed dentists.
Florida is in the middle of a dental access crisis, for which there is no single solution. To prevent dental caries in children as well the long-term cost of neglectful dental care, a combination of efforts from community leaders, social service organizations, policymakers, and oral health stakeholders are necessary to address existing barriers to care. However, there are some solutions we must consider.