Preventive Dentistry Plan Shows Results

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

The dental outreach plan for the 860,000 California children in the Healthy Families program has shown strong results, including across-the-board improvement in health plans' prevention efforts, according to officials from the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which oversees the program.

"Every one of our health plans showed improvement in terms of prevention," said Janette Casillas, MRMIB's executive director. "That means improvement in the number of oral exams, and in prevention efforts such as using sealant."

Among the report's highlights:

  • About 90% of the children in Healthy Families who visited the dentist received a preventive dental service, such as fluoride treatment;
  • Latino children in all dental plans visited the dentist at higher rates than other ethnic groups; and
  • Families receiving dental care gave the program higher rating marks in the 2011/12 survey than they did the year before.

Casillas said there was an interesting addition to this year's annual Dental Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey. "We added a new question to the survey this year," Casillas said. "If they weren't getting preventive services, we asked them why. And most families' response is, because they didn't need it."

Parents tend to wait for their children to express pain before taking them to the dentist, Casillas said. The message they should be getting, she said, is that annual visits could mean the children won't be expressing tooth pain, because they won't have rotting teeth.

"We will be pushing this really hard for our families in our program, the need for an annual visit," Casillas said. "We have run some pilot projects, where we have dental vans, or we have dental clinics on the weekends and evenings. And those have shown good results."

Healthy Families, California's Children's Health Insurance Program, is being phased out. The 860,000 children being moved into Medi-Cal managed care programs will have to pay for fee-for-service dental coverage.

The strong numbers in the annual dental report follow a series of reports, including a recent issue brief from the Children's Partnership, that show a striking absence of prevention services in children's lives. So the success at MRMIB is particularly gratifying, Casillas said.

"This has been a really big focus for us," Casillas said. "As broadly as people talk about the [challenges inherent in the Healthy Families] transition, this has shown some really nice results."


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