Have a Heart for Kids Day 2020

Ashley's toothache

Adam 01/16/12


Eight-year-old Ashley spent weeks in pain for want of a dentist.

Eight-year-old Ashley had a toothache – a common problem for a kid her age.

Calling numerous dental offices in the three-county area surrounding their home, Ashley’s mother April couldn’t get her an appointment. Most didn’t take her form of insurance, Apple Health for Kids.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s cavity turned into an abscessed tooth. The resulting pain and earaches were keeping her up at night.

After almost three weeks of calling a local clinic each morning at precisely 8 o’clock, April got her daughter in. Ashley’s tooth was pulled.

Those weeks of pain and suffering were “like nothing she’d ever experienced before, and I hope she never has to experience again,” says April.

“As a mother, when there’s nothing you can do for your child, it’s heartbreaking. But when all of those doors are closed to you, what do you do?”

For too many children and their families, the doors of our state’s oral health care system are closed.

Washington children in low-income households are 44 percent more likely to have experienced tooth decay by third grade than middle- or high-income children. Children of color at the same age are 18 percent more likely than others to be coping with tooth decay.

What they are dealing with is more than a toothache – it’s a precursor to life-threatening conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Without timely care, kids across the state are reliving Ashley’s experience.

That doesn’t need to happen – not with an affordable, comprehensive source of health coverage for dental as well as medical care. Forty-five percent of Washington's children are covered by Apple Health for Kids. But just 1 in 4 dentists accept its main component program, Medicaid. Those who do take a very limited number of children.

Innovative programs like Access to Baby and Child Dentistry are helping preschool-age kids get oral health care at their doctor’s office. But more needs to be done.

That’s why we’re working on House Bill 2226 / Senate Bill 6126, which create a new kind of affordable dental care provider.

A Licensed Dental Practitioner could:

  • provide affordable, timely care that kids and their families urgently need, freeing up dentists to perform more complex procedures;
  • curb or end the kind of pain Ashley went through, making sure more kids can focus in school;
  • go where few dentists are – to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the state, for example, where people who can’t sit in a dentist’s chair are in acute need of routine care.

This Thursday in Olympia, consumers, dental professionals, tribal governments and educators will tell members of the House and Senate about our state’s oral health crisis, and how we can blaze an innovative path out of it. We hope you’ll join us. For more information about the Washington Dental Access Campaign, contact Tera Bianchi.