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Copyright (c) 2011 Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics 
Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics

Article: The Epidemic of Children's Dental Diseases: Putting Teeth into the Law

Summer, 2011

Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law & Ethics

11 Yale J. Health Pol'y L. & Ethics 223


Jacqueline Fox*


Children in the United States suffer from an epidemic of poor dental health. The Surgeon General issued a detailed report on dental health in 2000, explaining the epidemic of pediatric tooth decay and cavities. 1 Unfortunately, such problems persist. 2 This epidemic is almost entirely preventable, costly to society, and cost-effective to remedy. Dental disease is a problem ripe for the use of societal resources. While some progress in controlling this health crisis has occurred since the Surgeon General issued his report, many remaining problems appear intractable in the current healthcare system. Addressing them requires substantive changes. Because these changes are partly legal in nature, this dental epidemic cries out for action and requires altering the legal framework of pediatric dental care by implementing the following changes: (1) expanding licensing for alternative caregivers; (2) simplifying reimbursement procedures for Medicaid; and (3) creating regulatory structures that educate and encourage parents to provide the necessary preventive care. Furthermore, U.S. policymakers need to consider providing dental care in schools, especially for children who live in poverty. This policy would make it easier for families to obtain access to care and has been adopted in New Zealand with great success in outcomes and cost-effectiveness, receiving noteworthy attention worldwide. 3

Children's dental health is critically important to their overall health and successful development into high-functioning adults. 4 Protecting it is straightforward and cost effective. 5 When left untreated, dental disease undermines a child's well-being. 6 Diseases such as tooth ...
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