Only 1 in 8 Mich. kids is getting dental care as early as experts recommend

Only 1 in 8 Mich. kids is getting dental care as early as experts recommend

Coalition’s report provides data and trends for each of Michigan’s 83 counties


The nation’s leading dental and medical organizations agree that all children should have a dental visit by the time they reach their first birthday. Yet a new analysis by the Michigan Oral Health Coalition (MOHC) shows that only 13 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children statewide have received oral health services from a dentist or pediatrician before age 2. Putting children on the right path early is important because tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood — even more common than asthma.


The MOHC report, Check-Up on Oral Health, focuses its analysis of early dental visits on children who are insured through Michigan’s Medicaid program. Research shows that low-income children are twice as likely as kids from wealthier households to have untreated tooth decay. The MOHC report ( reveals significant challenges:


  • In 13 counties, age 1 dental visits declined between 2015 and 2017.


  • In nearly two-thirds of Michigan’s counties, less than 20 percent of children have received an age 1 dental visit.


Because February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, MOHC Executive Director Karlene Ketola said Check-Up on Oral Health comes at an ideal time to highlight the importance of early dental care. She said the MOHC will step up its efforts to make sure more parents and caregivers know that tooth decay can begin right as teeth first appear in a baby’s mouth.


“A variety of barriers stand in the way of more children having a dental visit by age 1,” said MOHC Executive Director Karlene Ketola. “One barrier is assumptions. Some parents assume that baby teeth don’t matter because they eventually fall out. But those teeth are important, and keeping them healthy raises the odds that adult teeth will come into the mouth properly.”


As Check-Up on Oral Health explains, the access issue is another factor that can create hurdles for an age 1 dental visit. In fact, more than 1.3 million Michigan residents live in areas designated by the U.S. government as having a shortage of dental professionals.


Fortunately, Check-Up on Oral Health offers a silver lining — age 1 dental visits more than tripled in 23 counties between 2015 and 2017. These counties are: Alpena, Bay, Benzie, Berrien, Crawford, Delta, Gladwin, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Lapeer, Leelanau, Macomb, Manistee, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oakland, Oscoda, Presque Isle, Saginaw, St. Joseph and Wexford. (Data for all counties is provided by the report, which is accessible at 


“There have been impressive efforts in many counties to raise the bar, but we need to build stronger momentum statewide,” Ketola said. “Whether we are parent-advocates, dental professionals, pediatricians or community health workers, each of us has a role to play to ensure that more children receive dental care by age 1. This needs to become part of the messages that hospitals and health systems provide to new parents.”


Learn more about the MOHC and its priorities for creating a healthier state:


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