The State of Children's Dental Health
Making Coverage Matter
Arkansas Makes Strides in Dental Health
Arkansas Raises Grade from "F" to "C"
When Arkansas received an F from Pew’s report card in 2010, policy makers seized on the failing grade as an opportunity to reinvigorate the state’s oral health coalition and pursue needed policy changes. “I looked at Arkansas’ grade and I immediately thought, ‘We can do better than this,’” said state Senator David Johnson, who helped lead the state’s efforts. One year later, Arkansas’ grade is a C.
The state improved its grade because of progress in two areas. First, Arkansas increased the share of its Medicaid-enrolled children who receive actual dental care. In fact, 57 percent of these kids obtained a dental service of some kind, making Arkansas one of the top-ranking states.
Second, the state has changed a law that created a hurdle for dental hygienists to place sealants on children’s teeth. Sealants are clear plastic coatings that are applied to molars—the most cavity-prone teeth. Research shows that sealants prevent 60 percent of decay at one-third the cost of filling a cavity.
With the state’s budget under tremendous pressure, Sen. Johnson said it helped greatly that there were cost-effective strategies he could propose for strengthening children’s oral health.
“Usually, whether it’s education or health care, you’ve got to spend a lot of money to get a positive result,” he said. “The best part of this was realizing we could raise our grade without having to spend a whole lot of money. We were able to do something positive for public health and do it in an efficient way.”
Arkansas is poised to make additional progress because of other laws that its legislature enacted in 2011. One of these laws allows pediatricians and other medical personnel to get Medicaid reimbursement for providing preventive dental services to children. Another law will expand water fluoridation to many more communities, extending this cavity protection to an estimated 640,000 additional Arkansans.
State Senator Jason Rapert explained his support for expanding fluoridation by sharing a personal story. He informed fellow legislators that the condition of his daughters’ teeth deteriorated after the family moved from a fluoridated city to a non-fluoridated community.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there on the topic of fluoridation,” Sen. Rapert said. “When I looked at the data and talked to dentists and other people who have studied this issue, I came away feeling that passing this bill was the appropriate thing to do.”
“Policy change is often a test of persistence, and patience is still a virtue,” said Dr. Lynn Mouden, director of the state’s Office of Oral Health. “The passage of the fluoridation bill in Arkansas was the culmination of 11 years of work, with the dentists, hygienists, advocates and the state oral health coalition all partnering with our office.”
Pew funded a public opinion survey on fluoridation, revealing that Arkansans supported this preventive strategy by a nearly three-to-one margin.