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Pioneer Editorial: Center a big success for dental health

An estimated one in five children in America go without dental care each year and two-thirds of states do not have effective policies in place to ensure proper dental health and access to care, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.

An estimated one in five children in America go without dental care each year and two-thirds of states do not have effective policies in place to ensure proper dental health and access to care, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.

"The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children," released Tuesday, grades each state's policy responses to the challenges in dental health among America's low-income children. The study was aided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Foundation.

The report gave a letter grade to each of the 50 states, based on whether and how well they are employing eight proven policy solutions to ensure dental health and access to care for children. They include cost-effective ways to help prevent problems from occurring in the first place; Medicaid improvements that enable and motivate more dentists to treat disadvantaged children; new workforce models that expand the number of qualified dental providers; and gathering data to gauge progress and improve performance.

Only six states merited "A" grades: Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Carolina. The states met at least six of the eight policy benchmarks and had policies in place that met or exceeded the national performance standards.

Minnesota rated only a "C" having met or exceeded only four of the eight benchmarks. It's not a very good mark for a state known for its quality health care.

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We are blessed, however, in Bemidji. Through a wide-ranging community effort, a critical access dental health care center was able to open and is providing needed services to public assistance families -- most children -- in a critical field. Preventing serious teeth problems early can stave off later, more serious adult diseases and conditions. It's important to reach children early and teach dental hygiene.

Bemidji's Northern Dental Access Center celebrates its first anniversary with an open house 5-6:30 p.m. Thursday at the center, 1405 Anne St. N.W. It has already seen more than 1,000 patients and has made a dent in what was an underserved area.

Still, the state's budget woes threaten to put a kink in the Dental Center's growing pains. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in his supplemental budget to help make up a $1.2 billion shortfall, would reduce critical access dental funding from the Health Care Access Fund $3.05 million in fiscal 2011, $6.3 million in fiscal 2012 and $6.88 million in fiscal 2013. Less funding will mean modifying the criteria for Critical Access Dental add-on payments. Under the proposal, fewer dentists would qualify for the payment.

The Northern Dental Access Center has been a huge success in getting more children to see the dentist, and we hope that cutting more state spending won't impair and necessary local service.

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