This year for my Honors capstone project, I am choosing to research the career I plan to pursue after graduation and form foundational knowledge that will aid me in my May project later this year. Because I plan on going into dentistry as a career, my May project will most likely involve shadowing a dentist or orthodontist as they go about their daily work day. When deciding what to research, I landed on oral health and dental coverage on Medicaid.
I started my research looking into oral health and how important it is. Dental health is a vital part of a person’s overall health and dental checkups are recommended to stay healthy. There have been links identified between gum disease and heart disease, both of which are caused because of inflammation. Although there is not a direct correlation, both diseases have shared risk factors like smoking. Information like this is a key indicator of how important dental health is, yet it is often overlooked or forgotten about.
This discovery led me to my next topic and that was my research into what Medicaid is and what kind of coverage it provides. Medicaid provides health benefits to low-income individuals and families. Plans range state to state but most cover basic health requirements. What I noticed, however, is that only a handful of states provide dental coverage. The lack of dental coverage seems to be directly correlated to the number of dentists in a particular area and the lack of government funded dentists.
Through my research I discovered that rural or poor areas are often lacking dentists all together, making dental coverage less accessible. The cost of dental education and the supplies needed to run an office make it difficult for dentists to locate their offices in less fortunate areas because they might not be able to keep their business open. Also, most dentists are privately owned, so most only accept private insurance.
Statistics show that race and income prove to play a factor in dental health. Therefore, the people who are in most need of dental services have the least access to it. Although Louisiana does offer dental plans to its patients on Medicaid, the high poverty rate and low dentist accessibility affects the state’s dental health negatively. Louisiana ranks 49th in the United States for worst dental health.
There are some programs that are helping fight this ranking, however. The state has several school-sanctioned programs like Louisiana Seals Smiles to help implement good oral health practices and provide services to students who might not get access to private practices. In addition to Medicaid, there is a program called Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which is specifically designed to help children in low-income households. CHIP is required to provide coverage “necessary to prevent disease and promote oral health, restore oral structures to health and function, and treat emergency conditions.” This coverage is critical for starting and maintaining healthy habits. Medicaid and CHIP also both cover orthodontics, but only if it is medically necessary like congenitally missing teeth or cleft lip defects.
This research is helping me see a side of dentistry that I never knew existed. With this knowledge, I can explore different types of dentists or different programs that dentists participate in to help those who don’t have access to dental care. It has also made me more conscious of how much of the community around me doesn’t have the same access that I do to good dental health. This research has definitely shown me a preview of my future profession, and I hope to someday work towards building a practice that helps those that are in need of dental care.
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