A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Oral Health and Homeless Kids

Oral Health and Homeless Kids

March 17, 2009

A key issue affecting oral health for kids is homelessness. Last week, The National Center on Family Homelessness released a report called “America’s Youngest Outcasts: State Report Card on Child Homelessness” to provide a comprehensive snapshot of child homelessness in America today. Homelessness puts children at risk for many things- including poor health outcomes. Because oral health is a crucial part of overall health and a successful future, the report contained some new information about homeless children and oral disease.

Dental disease is the most common chronic childhood disease. It is five times more common than asthma in children all across the nation. Dental decay can affect some of life’s most basic activities, including speaking and eating, and can hinder kids’ ability to learn and advance in school. In adults, dental disease is associated with other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and low birth weights. Measures such as dental sealants, fluoride treatments, and early childhood screenings can almost entirely prevent dental disease.

According to the report, the number of children who lack dental insurance is more than two and one-half times the number of children who lack medical insurance. Being uninsured significantly decreases the likelihood that children will visit a dentist, which means that they do not have access to these simple and effective preventive services.

The rates and impact of dental disease is even greater for low-income and homeless children. Homeless children are more likely to have tooth decay and cavities, and low-income children are burdened with more than twelve times as many restricted activity days due to dental disease as compared to their higher income counterparts.

When communities work together to make oral health a priority, dental disease is entirely preventable. This report is a reminder that we have a way to go before we can declare victory on dental disease. We have solutions to prevent this disease; yet more than one in four Massachusetts children enters school with a history of dental decay. By approaching this issue with community and state-wide solutions – providing access to screenings, fluoride, sealants and other preventive measures - we can eliminate dental disease and give our children the healthy childhood that they deserve.

The full report details the status of homeless children in four areas: extent of child homelessness, child well-being, structural risk factors, and state-by-state policy and planning efforts.