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ABCD All it Takes for Low-Income Kids to Get a Dentist

When a child’s first tooth erupts, the American Dental Association recommends parents get them into the dentist. For low-income families, that sometimes isn't an option. But Washington’s low-income kids have more dentist visits than in any other state.

The buzz of a dental tool and flurry of kids mean it’s a busy day for Dr. Jared Evans, the dentist at KiDDS Dental in Liberty Lake, Washington. Evans and about 150 other dentists in the Spokane area are certified to accept child patients on Medicaid, through a program called ABCD, Access to Baby and Child Dentistry.

The Washington Dental Service Foundation, citing Medicaid research, announced last month that Washington actually leads the nation in giving low-income kids access to dental care. Evans attributes that to ABCD, which was developed in Spokane.

ABCD-certified dentists see Medicaid enrolled kids, and get enhanced Medicaid reimbursements as incentive. Evans facilitates the local certifications.

“It was justified to pay them that if they got the additional training to see these children. So with the training and getting better skilled dentists, it’s worked very well,” Evans said.

The Spokane Regional Health District has its own ABCD coordinator, Kay Cobb.

“It’s been great,” Cobb said. “The ages are 0  to 6, and that is so we can get them started on the right track, send them to three visits a year, and make sure that they are getting off to a good start.”

Evans says if parents bring in their child when the first tooth emerges, they can discuss prevention.

“Dental carries and cavities can be prevented, and so by emphasizing the prevention aspect, there is a dramatic cost savings to the state and to everyone involved, and for just the overall health of the child,” Cobb said.

Evans says early childhood visits with the dentist can prevent rotting teeth, which prevent operations down the road. Through ABCD, more than 14,000 kids in Spokane County use Medicaid dental services. Fifty one percent of 0- to 5-year-olds on Medicaid in Washington get dental care, which is higher than any other state. As of this fall, the program is active in all counties in Washington.