Wisconsin's Low-Income Kids Lack Dental Care

Jun 26, 2013

Wisconsin has a problem with low-income access to dental care.  

A new study finds almost three quarters of children enrolled in Medicaid in Wisconsin don't receive any dental care.
Credit United States Postal Service

That’s according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trust.   It finds the state ranks second worst in the nation for the number of low-income kids receiving dental care.  Jane Koppelman is Research Director with the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign.

“In 2011 almost 72 percent of kids on Medicaid in Wisconsin – that’s nearly three quarters of the child Medicaid population – did not receive any dental care in 2011.  Not even a routine exam.”

Many dentists do not accept Medicaid…citing a low reimbursement rate from the federal government.  Wisconsin also ranked in the bottom 10 for the percentage of dentists over the age of 55: about 45 percent.  A large number of dentists close to retirement could foreshadow a bigger shortage of dentists in the future.  Koppelman suggests states consider alternatives that could make dental care more accessible.

“One is to train dental hygienists to do more basic procedures like temporary fillings.  Because right now only a dentist can drill and fill teeth.”

Koppelman says some states are also considering dental therapist programs...that could create the equivalent of nurse practitioners…but for dentistry.    Here in the Northwoods the Marshfield Clinic Rhinelander Dental Center offers general family dentistry and serves patients regardless of income or insurance status.