Just how big is this problem? Statistics show the chronic infectious disease that causes cavities remains second only to the common cold in terms of prevalence in children. Unlike a cold however, tooth decay does not go away, it only gets worse.
Poor children are more than twice as likely to have cavities then children who come from wealthier households. Medicaid is able to provide comprehensive dental care to many low-income children through its early periodic screening diagnosis and treatment benefit. Similarly, many states provide dental benefits as part of their Children's Health Insurance Program. I have no doubt that if it were not for these two programs, the problems that our children face in securing primary dental care would be exponentially worse.
But clearly we need to do more. There are many children who are eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP who are not enrolled. That means that there are millions of children who should be receiving dental care but are not. We need to invest more funds to improve enrollment in these important programs, and provide the financial resources to ensure that they can access the benefits once they are enrolled.
There are also many children who are not eligible for public health insurance programs who are unable to also receive proper dental care. When I am in New Jersey visiting community health centers or hospital clinics, I see first hand how difficult it is for low-income families to obtain primary dental care. The community health centers that I talk to describe the difficulty they have in securing dentists to provide care to their patients.
I truly believe that we are seeing a crisis when it comes to dental care for kids and our nation's children can no longer wait for Congress to act. The longer we wait, the more children we put at risk.