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Pew: Dental Care Lacking for Hoosier Kids on Medicaid

Two-thirds of low-income Hoosier children on Medicaid did not receive dental care in 2011.

A new study shows that in the most recent year for which data is available, 67 percent of Medicaid-enrolled Indiana children did not receive a dental visit – the third-highest percentage in the nation. 

Pew Children’s Dental Campaign Director Shelly Gehshan says that’s because not enough dentists take Medicaid patients.

“If you’re a parent who has a child enrolled in Medicaid and that kid has a Medicaid card, all it is is a hunting license because they may never be able to find somebody who will accept that child,” Gehshan said.

Gehshan says one way to improve the situation is to pay better Medicaid rates for dental care.  She says the state can also license a new kind of dental provider, commonly called oral health or dental therapists, the equivalent of nurse practitioners.

“A dentist or a clinic could hire a new type of provider such as a dental therapist and supervise them and they could expand the reach of that clinic or that practice so they could see more patients and do it more cost-effectively,” Gehshan said.

Gehshan says 38 percent of Hoosier dentists are over 55 years old, meaning that within ten years, the state will lose a third of its dentists with not enough new ones to fully replace the loss.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.