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Cavities Are Catching: MassHealth Adult Dental Cuts Endanger Children

Cavities Are Catching: MassHealth Adult Dental Cuts Endanger Children

April 4, 2011

As we leave the winter and flu season behind, we thought we were done worrying about catching an illness from anyone, at least for a few months. However, according to a recent New York Times article, dental cavities can be contagious, with people “catching cavities” from another person all the time.

Cavities actually are caused by bacteria on a person’s teeth. The bacteria feed off remaining particles of food. As a by-product, the bacteria produce acid that destroys teeth, resulting in cavities. Simply put, dental decay is a disease. In fact, it is the most common chronic childhood disease, and can interfere with basic life activities, such as eating, speaking, learning and working.

This cavity causing bacteria can be transferred from person to person, and according to the New York Times, most frequently is transferred to children from their caregivers.

Just as a cold virus can be passed from one person to the next, so can these cavity-causing bacteria. One of the most common is Streptococcus mutans. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to it, and studies have shown that most pick it up from their caregivers — for example, when a mother tastes a child’s food to make sure it’s not too hot, said Dr. Margaret Mitchell, a dentist in Chicago.

This article is a good reminder of the far-reaching impacts of the cuts to MassHealth adult dental benefits. The elimination of coverage for restorative services, including fillings for cavities, has left the 700,000 adults that relied on MassHealth for essential dental services with barriers to care and the potential for untreated dental infections. Untreated, dental infections not only cause unnecessary pain, they also can lead to more serious systemic infections that require emergent medical care and seriously threaten one’s health.

These cuts don’t just hurt adults. As this article points out, dental disease can easily be transmitted between loved ones and family members. In addition, a growing body of research confirms that eliminating dental benefits for adults decreases the likelihood that children will see a dentist. The elimination of MassHealth adult dental benefits places entire families at greater risk for dental infection while simultaneously decreasing access to medically necessary treatment.

Oral health is overall health and dental insurance is health insurance. The MassHealth adult dental program plays a critical role in providing access to oral health care for both children and adults. With the FY2012 budget process underway, restoring MassHealth Adult dental should be a priority, in an effort to improve the health of families across the Commonwealth.
-Lydia Mitts