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

PHOTO: More children across Arkansas and the nation are expected to gain dental care, since it is an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit Carl Wycoff
PHOTO: More children across Arkansas and the nation are expected to gain dental care, since it is an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit Carl Wycoff
March 10, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, but across Arkansas and the country new requirements could help take a bite out of kids' dental problems. Pediatric dental care is one of the essential benefits under the Affordable Care Act, meaning childhood dental care must be offered, whether it's part of a health plan or as an optional stand-alone.

That should help get more children into the chair, according to Dr. Paul Reggiardo, spokesman for 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," he 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, it's estimated that as many as 8.7 million people age 21 and younger will gain dental coverage nationwide by 2018.

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

"Kids who are suffering with pain, they're not getting adequate nutrition. Their school performance is affected. Their learning is affected," he said. "A child in pain is not going to be able to sit attentively in school and listen, and so 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 at 1.usa.gov/1ohO59Y. ADA benefit examination is at ADA.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR