It may not be our favorite place to go, but regular visits to the dentist's office are important for overall health.
Unfortunately in Wisconsin a growing number of people are not able to go, particularly low-income families relying on Medicaid.
“[It] seems to be growing,” said Dr John Moore of Mooresmiles Dental. “I would say one out of every 10 patients who calls inquires about it.”
According to the Wisconsin Dental Association, out of the state's entire Medicaid budget, only 1% is spent on oral health. The WDA says the lack of funding means most providers can not accept Medicaid at all.
“They're not finding the care because it's not funded,” said Dr Joe Uker, Southwest Region Trustee for WDA. “Dentists aren't able to accept Medicaid because it actually causes them to lose money in their business.”
Medicaid pays about 30 cents on the dollar in reimbursement, but just to cover overhead costs, providers would need more than twice that to break even.
“That means that for every dollar that you bring in, you pay 75 cents to administer that care with staff and equipment and facilities,” said Dr Moore.
“Dentists are business owners,” said Dr Uker. “Usually they're not working in a hospital setting and so they have to worry about these types of things.”
As a result, more and more people are skipping care and ending up in the ER for preventable oral health emergencies.
“The hospitals just unfortunately are not equipped to treat dental issues,” said Dr Uker. “[Patients] are usually prescribed antibiotics, pain medications and given a bill that is ten times more expensive then if they were to see a dentist.”
A pilot program in several Wisconsin counties gives some dentists higher medicaid reimbursement rates. Preliminary evidence shows that program is drawing more providers on board, but for Wisconsin dentists, it's only one small step in long journey toward more care access.