Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Dental Care for Publicly Insured Children

Nadereh Pourat, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, and Len Finocchio, California HealthCare Foundation

This Health Affairs article by Pourat and Finocchio finds that children with public insurance, especially Latinos and African Americans, visit the dentist less often than those with private insurance.

July 2010

A study published in the July issue of Health Affairs reveals that nearly 25% of children in California have never been to a dentist and that disparities exist across race, ethnicity, and type of insurance when it comes to the length of time between dental care visits.

The study, "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Dental Care for Publicly Insured Children," supported by CHCF, examined barriers to dental care for California children age 11 and under using data from the 2005 California Health Interview Survey.

Researchers found that Latino and African American children across all types of insurance were less likely than Asian American and White children to have visited a dentist in the prior six months. Similarly, Latino and African American children in public insurance programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), went to a dentist less often than White and Asian American children with the same insurance coverage.

Nadereh Pourat, PhD, director of research planning at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, was the study's lead author. Len Finocchio, DrPH, senior program officer at CHCF, coauthored the study.

The researchers note that the findings raise concerns about Medicaid's ability to address disparities in dental care access. Ultimately, they observe, more strategic efforts are necessary to overcome systemic barriers to care, including raising reimbursement rates paid to dentists who serve the Medicaid population and increasing the number of participating Medicaid providers.

And despite the disparities, having any form of dental insurance significantly increases the odds of seeing a dentist on a regular basis — 54% of privately insured children and 27% of publicly insured children had seen the dentist in the last six months, compared to 12% of children without dental coverage.

The complete article is available free of charge on the Health Affairs site through the link below.