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Medicaid: Extent of Dental Disease in Children Has Not Decreased, and Millions Are Estimated to Have Untreated Tooth Decay

GAO-08-1121 Published: Sep 23, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2008.
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In recent years, concerns have been raised about the adequacy of dental care for low-income children. Attention to this subject became more acute due to the widely publicized case of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy who died as a result of an untreated infected tooth that led to a fatal brain infection. Deamonte had health coverage through Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that provides health care coverage, including dental care, for millions of low-income children. Deamonte had extensive dental disease and his family was unable to find a dentist to treat him. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which children in Medicaid experience dental disease, the extent to which they receive dental care, and how these conditions have changed over time. To examine these indicators of oral health, GAO analyzed data for children ages 2 through 18, by insurance status, from two nationally representative surveys conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). GAO also interviewed officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and dental associations and researchers. In commenting on a draft of the report, HHS acknowledged the challenge of providing dental services to children in Medicaid, and cited a number of studies and actions taken to address the issue.

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