The State of Children's Dental Health
Making Coverage Matter
Maryland Top Performer in Dental Health
Maryland is the top-performing state for 2011 by meeting seven of Pew's eight policy benchmarks. Many of the state’s successful efforts to strengthen oral health were spurred by a 12-year-old boy’s tragic death, which garnered headlines in 2007. An $80 tooth extraction could have saved the life of Deamonte Driver, but his mother did not have private dental insurance and the family’s Medicaid coverage had lapsed.
Maryland achieved six policy benchmarks in the 2010 Pew report, and it now meets a seventh benchmark—reaching a threshold for the percentage of its low-income children who see a dentist. The most recent data show that 42 percent of Maryland’s Medicaid-enrolled children received some kind of dental service over the course of a year.
The Driver tragedy galvanized state policy makers, who worked through the Dental Action Committee, a non-legislative body that created a plan for reducing barriers to dental care. The committee’s roadmap led to an increase in the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates for dentists, encouraging more of them to treat low-income patients. Pew’s 2011 report shows that Maryland’s Medicaid rate is one of the five best in the nation.
The committee also launched or supported other efforts to improve access to care. The Deamonte Driver Dental Project is using a mobile van and other means to provide dental services to underserved children in one Maryland’s high-need counties. The project is a partnership among the state’s General Assembly, the governor’s office and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Gov. Martin O’Malley said his state has relied on better coordination to improve access to dental care. “We’ve made sure that government works with our partners in the private sector and with our teaching hospitals so that dental care and oral health education is available in every jurisdiction statewide,” Gov. O’Malley said.
In addition to striving to expand access to care, Maryland continues to invest in proven preventive strategies, giving more of its residents (98.8 percent) access to fluoridated water than any other state. Only the District of Columbia provides fluoridated water to all of its citizens whose homes are connected to public water systems.
Maryland officials are not content with the progress their state has made. “Our oral health agenda in 2011 is focused on the fact that we can accomplish even more,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, M.D., secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"I am so happy that Maryland’s commitment to dental health, particularly in the lives of our children, has been recognized," said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “However, we cannot be happy with this plateau. We must never stop in our pursuit of better health for our children." Cummings and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) co-chair the Congressional Oral Health Caucus.