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Study: Access to Dental Care Lags in MN


Tuesday, March 2, 2010   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota gets a "C" on its dental policies for kids, according to a new national study. A pediatric dentist says the study confirms what Minnesota dentists have been saying for years: the state is falling short in providing good dental health and access to care for disadvantaged children, especially in rural and low-income areas.

The study,by the Pew Center for the States, says Minnesota meets only four of eight policy measurements for quality care. Dr. Robin Loewen, a pediatric dentist from Rochester, says the results come as no surprise. She believes improving dental health in Minnesota is a wise financial decision.

"Minnesota is actually doing well on half of the benchmarks that were proposed in the study, and the other benchmarks are things that can actually be accomplished. Dental health care only comprises two percent of the overall health care spending in this country. This is not an unattainable goal."

Loewen says there are ways to address the lack of dentists who practice in rural and low-income areas, including tax incentives and student-loan forgiveness programs. Three areas in which Minnesota scored well in the report are water fluoridation; the ability of dental assistants to put sealants on kids' teeth; and the state's policy of reimbursing medical providers for early preventive dental health care.

Loewen says the state pays dentists a very low rate to treat patients in government health programs, well below the national average. She says dentists in Minnesota already have a long history of providing free dental care for disadvantaged children.

"However, charity is not actually a health care system, so we need to promote a solid infrastructure through good policy that provides prevention and education, as well as early intervention for all children, not just those with access to good oral health care through insurance."

She says in states where reimbursement rates are higher, dentist participation in state programs and the numbers of children receiving dental care have grown significantly.

In the study, the Pew Center on the States measured the performance of every state and the District of Columbia.

The Pew study is at www.pewcenteronthestates.org

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