Study demonstrates impact of public policy changes on oral health outcomes, especially among low-income, minority children
HARTFORD – FEB. 23, 2016 – A multi-year study of 6- and 7-year old HUSKY-insured children revealed that expanding access to dental services for low income children has been successful in providing more opportunities to prevent tooth decay through dental sealants – protective plastic coatings dentists apply to the biting surface of first permanent molars.
The analysis of Medicaid data from 2006-2012 demonstrated public policy changes intended to provide HUSKY-insured children with an expanded provider network not only improved access to services, but also improved oral health outcomes, while reducing dental inequities.
The study conducted by Joanna Douglas, BDS, DDS, a consultant and an associate professor at the UConn School of Dental Medicine, and commissioned by the Connecticut Heath Foundation, showed:
- 74 percent of 7-year olds continuously enrolled in HUSKY received a dental exam in 2012, compared to 51 percent in 2006.
- In 2012, 41 percent of HUSKY-insured third graders received a dental sealant, a significant improvement since 2006 and a rate close to the 43 percent in the general population.
- Hispanic and Black children living in urban areas are at greater risk for cavities and experienced the highest sealant application rates.
- Elevated provider reimbursement rates, provider outreach and streamlined provider enrollment procedures increased private dentist participation and improved HUSKY-insured children’s oral health.
“This study demonstrates how concerted efforts to ensure that all children in Connecticut have access to the dental services they need can make a demonstrable difference and reduce inequities,” Dr. Douglas said. “Dental sealants can lower tooth decay, the most common chronic childhood disease, and should continue to be a priority, especially among Black and Hispanic children.”
The findings are included in the Connecticut Health Foundation report: “Greater Access to Dental Services Reduces Inequities and Boosts Sealant Use Among HUSKY-Insured Children” and available for download on its website at www.cthealth.org.
“While it’s often hard to show a link between increased access and better health outcomes, the good news is that through this study, we can connect policy changes with improved access with healthier teeth,” said Patricia Baker, CT Health president and CEO. “Yet, without creating an environment where robust private dental provider participation remains in the HUSKY program, the significant oral health improvements low-income children realized over the past 8 years will erode,” added Baker. Some researchers predict private sector dental fees will have risen as much as 50 percent by 2017.
About the Connecticut Health Foundation
The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) is the state’s largest independent health philanthropy dedicated to improving lives by changing health systems. Since it was established in July 1999, the foundation has supported innovative grant-making, public health policy research, technical assistance and convening to achieve its mission – to improve the health of the people of Connecticut. Over the past 15 years, CT Health has awarded grants totaling close to $58 million in 45 cities and towns throughout the state.
In 2013, CT Health announced a five-year strategic plan that made expanding health equity the foundation’s central focus. For CT Health, health equity means helping more people gain access to better care, especially people of color and underserved populations. Better care includes physical, mental, and oral health.
For more information about the foundation, please visit www.cthealth.org or contact vice president of policy and communications Elizabeth Krause at Elizabeth@cthealth.org or 860.724.1580, ext. 14.