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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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"Say Ahhhh!" Florida gets an F, again, in Kids' Dental Health

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida gets an F on a new national report card that compares how states are doing in providing dental care to children.

The Pew Center on the States based the grades on issues such as availability of tooth sealants and water fluoridation, Medicaid policies that encourage dentists to treat lower-income children, and the overall number of dentists available to keep up with the demand.

Link: The Pew report is available here.

Shelly Gehshan, director of the Pew Children's Dental Campaign, says states need to anticipate the effects of health-care reform, which will be major in terms of dental health.

"There are 14 states and the District of Columbia that failed to improve C's, D's or F's that they got last year. Five states earned an F, and three of them earned an F two years running: Florida, Hawaii and New Jersey. That's really very disappointing."

About half the states earned A or B grades in the Pew report, and 22 states have raised their grades in the past year. Gehshan says it's proof that, even in tough budget times, states are finding it worthwhile to get children to the dentist regularly, to prevent more serious health problems.

A shortage of dentists and poor funding keeps Florida at the bottom of the class when it comes to children's dental health, a situation which has triggered a federal lawsuit to increase state Medicaid funding. Anne Swerlick, a lawyer representing Florida's low-income children, is at the forefront of the fight.

"There aren't dental providers who are willing to take Medicaid patients because the reimbursement rates are so horribly low. You have kids that live in Tallahassee; if they need some sort of specialized dental care, they're going to be sent to Gainesville."

Nationally, the report says, more than 16 million children from low-income families do not get annual dental checkups.

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