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  • September 14, 2016

Illinois oral health care by the numbers

How does oral health care in Illinois stack up, compared to the rest of the country?

In short, not too bad, at least that’s the picture from the latest study of the Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association. Crunching data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the institute looks to provide information and comparisons of the oral health care system nationwide.

With the exception of reimbursement rates for the state’s Medicaid system – which has teetered between chronically and tragically underfunded for years in Illinois – oral care in the state is on mostly solid ground. 

A few highlights:

  • From 2005 to 2013, the percentage of Illinois children with private dental insurance who saw a dentist annually grew to 66 percent from 61 percent, and beat out the national average of 64 percent in 2013. 
  • While parents seem to be diligent about taking their kids to the dentist, adults in Illinois and nationally are slipping in annual dental visits. In Illinois, the number fell to 61 percent in 2013 from 63 percent in 2005. The national average fell as well, from 60 percent in 2005 to 59 percent.
  • Despite perennial funding chaos, Illinois children on Medicaid are much more likely than children nationwide to receive sealants. According to the report, 20 percent of the Illinois children between the ages of 6 and 14 on Medicaid received at least one sealant in Illinois compared to just 14 percent nationally.
  • Though the state’s Medicaid children somehow receive services – probably from dentists who don’t bother to seek reimbursement – the number of Illinois dentists who participate in the state’s Medicaid program is a mere 30 percent, compared to 42 percent nationally, according to 2014 data. And no wonder. The report also finds that reimbursement rates to treat Medicaid children in Illinois fell 16.8 percent from 2001 to 2013.
  • While debate on fluoridation ebbs and flows across the country, Illinois and Minnesota tied at a stunning 99 percent of the states’ population on community water systems receiving fluoridated water, according to 2012 figures analyzed by the institute. Kentucky and the District of Columbia both registered 100 percent. At the opposite end of the scale, Hawaii was dead last with a similarly stunning 11 percent followed by New Jersey with 15 percent.
  • The percentage of dentists per 100,000 in population grew in Illinois and nationally from 2001 to 2013. In Illinois, the rate of growth was slower (65.3 percent to 66.7 percent), but the percentage of dentists was higher than national figures. In 2013, the percentage of Illinois dentists to 100,000 in population was 66.7 percent compared to 60.5 percent nationally.

Looking to compile this national snapshot, the Health Policy Institute report found trends, both good and bad. While it lauded states’ efforts to provide dental care for children, particularly Medicaid children, it found a troubling national disconnect among adults seeking dental care. Nationwide, the percentage of adults seeking annual visits is declining. And for adults on Medicaid, the gap is far worse.

The report encourages policymakers to overhaul state Medicaid programs, with the aim of extending coverage to more adults, streamlining administrative costs and increasing reimbursement levels. It also urges policymakers and the dental community to “reinvent how oral health is defined and measured” to counterbalance the notion among many adults that regular dental care is too costly.

Illinois is in a stronger position than many other states, but challenges remain. If the dental community, politicians and policymakers can look at the numbers and find common ground, goals to improve delivery and accessibility of oral health care for all of the state’s residents can move forward.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email suggestions for topics to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
© 2016, Chicago Dental Society