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Reason to Smile: More TN Children Expected to See the Dentist

PHOTO: More and more children across Tennessee and the U.S. are expected to gain dental care, as it is an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit Carl Wycoff
PHOTO: More and more children across Tennessee and the U.S. are expected to gain dental care, as it is an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit Carl Wycoff
March 3, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It is the most common chronic childhood disease, but across Tennessee and the nation there are new requirements that could help take a bite out of kids' tooth decay. Pediatric dental care is one of the essential benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), meaning childhood dental care must be offered, whether it is part of a health plan or as an optional stand-alone. That should help get more children in the chair, said Dr. Paul Reggiardo with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

"We estimate the number at somewhere probably around 16 million children who do not have access to dental benefits," Reggiardo said. "And lack of dental benefits is a real barrier to care for a lot of families and for a lot of children."

As a result of the ACA, an estimated 8.7 million people age 21 and younger will gain dental coverage nationwide by 2018.

Reggiardo explained that tooth decay and untreated cavities in childhood can lead to serious pain, and the negative effects of that spread from there.

"Kids who are suffering with pain, they're not getting adequate nutrition. Their school performance is affected. Their learning is affected. A child in pain is not going to be able to sit attentively in school and listen," he said. "The implications go well beyond just having cavities."

The next major deadline under the Affordable Care Act is just weeks away, with the first open enrollment period ending March 31 for those wanting a plan this year through the health insurance marketplace.

ACA dental plan information is available at http://1.usa.gov. Benefit examination information is available from the American Dental Association at www.ada.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TN