If you’re like me, your child has so many medical appointments it may be hard to keep up with routine or preventive care. But family caregivers need to know how essential dental care is for their children. Parents may think, oh it’s just teeth, and have so many more urgent things to do. But oral health is just as important as other physical health.
What family caregivers need to know about dental care
Oral health can affect physical health. Once a problem sets in, it’s not “just teeth.” There can be complications like infection etc. Sadly, one young boy died from lack of access to dental care. (see http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Dental/story?id=2925584.) 12-year-old Deamonte Driver of Maryland had an abscess in his tooth which spread to his brain. ABC news reported that after 6 weeks, two neural surgeries, and $250,000 in hospital bills later he was dead. “An $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life.”
Think it can’t happen to your family? The ABC report noted that “By the age of 11, approximately half of children have decay. When a cavity goes untreated…, the decay eats into the center of the tooth, and eventually enters the nerves and blood vessels. From there, bacteria get into the blood stream and can travel virtually anywhere.” That’s what happened to Deamonte. It’s that simple.
Photo courtesy of PBS Frontline
Where families can find dental coverage for their children
Many family caregivers do not know that the Affordable Care Act Marketplace has dental benefits. Qualified Health Plans may include dental coverage so it’s important for families to look for that when they enroll. Also in the Marketplace are “stand-alone” dental plans. Remember that many families will also qualify for help to pay for coverage and the Marketplace will automatically calculate that. The deadline for open enrollment is 3/31/14. Family caregivers need to check if dental benefits are included in their medical plan at https://www.healthcare.gov/find-premium-estimates/. Families can also find information on available stand-alone dental plans at https://www.healthcare.gov/dental-plan-information/
If your child is also eligible for Medicaid (children with special needs can have both private and public plans), dental coverage is included. The private plan would pay first; Medicaid pays what’s left over. Even if your child ONLY has Medicaid, he or she can get dental care. It is important to make sure that your dentist participates in either the private plan and/or Medicaid.
If your child is uninsured, Donated Dental Services may be able to provide free care. To find the program in your state, see http://dentallifeline.org/our-state-programs/. In addition, many states are holding free events on February 7-8 nationwide.
Other things family caregivers can do
Our child has been in and out of the hospital over a dozen times, sometimes for months at a time, over the past 2 years. We make sure that we catch up on medical appointments such as immunizations, vision, and oral care as soon as we get home. We do everything we can to keep dental care going while she’s hospitalized. We brought retainers to the hospital every time, because she now can’t have dental implants due to her kidney transplant. Instead of having her wear them during the night as usual, we had her wear them during the day when we were there and can keep track of them. We decided this after they were almost once accidently discarded on a meal tray! The only time she didn’t wear her retainers, besides for medical procedures, was when she was in ICU on a ventilator for week. The dentist couldn’t believe her teeth were still straight after everything she’d been through!
We also bring all of her dental hygiene items such as plaque remover, toothpaste, floss (those dinosaur shaped ones work great for kids), and mouthwash. Due to her autism, our daughter needs help so we brush first thing in the morning, after meals, and before bedtime when we leave. Once her bottom retainer wore out in the hospital, so the dentist kindly made a mold of her teeth in case we needed a replacement again while hospitalized, and made a second retainer just in case and only charged half price.
Families need to be aware of serious symptoms related to dental disease. Warning signs according to various articles on Deamonte’s death, include headache and face swelling, in addition to pain. Some hospital ERs even have dental centers, but hopefully it won’t come to that.
Family caregivers need to get the best dental care for their children with special needs, along with other medical care. There are now ACA plans available, and Medicaid always covered dental care but families may not know this. By keeping your child’s teeth healthy, it will keep him or her healthier too!
Resources for Family Caregivers of Children with Special Needs:
Bright Futures in Practice: Oral Health—Pocket Guide – Georgetown University AUCD DC
Dental Tool Kit – Autism Speaks
Oral Health (Salud Bucal) - American Academy of Pediatrics information for families
Oral Health - Maternal/Child Health Knowledge Path –U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal/Child Health Bureau
Oral Health Tips - Vanderbilt Kennedy Center AUCD Tennessee
Lauren Agoratus is a parent/advocate who works for the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and serves as the NJ Coordinator for Family Voices (www.spanadvocacy.org), a national network that works to “keep families at the center of children’s healthcare” at www.familyvoices.org or FB www.facebook.com/pages/Family-Voices-Inc-National/137783182902269. She also serves as NJ representative supporting caregivers across the lifespan for the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) in a volunteer capacity at http://caregiveraction.org/ or FB www.facebook.com/CaregiverActionNetwork