Study: many poor children live in pain because barriers to dental care too great

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL Fewer than one in eight North Carolina children ages 1 to 5 who qualify for free dental treatment through Medicaid visit a dentist in any given year.

As a result, they and older poor children, whose visits are not much more frequent, often live with strong physical and emotional pain, according to a unique new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study. Cavities can hurt a lot -- disrupting sleep and meals -- and other children ridicule their unsightly front teeth.

Despite substantial federal funding, barriers to dental care for such youngsters are just too great for many to overcome. The new work was confined to the Tar Heel state, but many parts of the nation and many of the more than 20 million children enrolled in Medicaid face comparable problems, the researchers say.

Their investigation involved forming 11 racially and ethnically diverse focus groups of parents and other caregivers across North Carolina, holding intensive discussions with participants about their experiences and analyzing what they found.

I could not get a dentist to take Medicaid, one mother said. I got the book out, the telephone book, and I went through about 10-15 dentists, and no one wanted to take Medicaid. I just gave up.

Another complained about the time it took to have her child treated while paying patients came and went quickly: You checked in at 10 in the morningand its 4 before you can get seen because youre on Medicaid. Its just the way it makes you feel. Ive sat five, six hours. Ill never do it again.

Atop all lifes other pressures, the stress in finding a dentist and subsequent interactions in the dental office can be enormous, forcing some parents to just give up.

The study also found that language is a particular frustration for Latinos, and some minorities perceive prejudices against them that make them want to stay away.

Why do they work like this? a potential patient asked.

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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