Although oral health care is included in Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit for children, less than half of the nation’s 30 million Medicaid-enrolled children receive any dental service in a given year. Barriers to oral health care access in this population include low rates of oral health care provider participation in Medicaid; the reluctance of oral health care providers to treat young children; insufficient awareness of dental benefits among Medicaid-enrolled families; and literacy and cultural barriers, among others.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched the National Oral Health Initiative (OHI) to support states in improving children’s oral health care access. The OHI, which called for each state to develop a pediatric Oral Health Action Plan by the end of 2012, aims to:

  1. Increase in each state by 10 percentage points the proportion of children enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP who receive a preventive dental service; and
  2. Increase by 10 percentage points the proportion of children ages six to nine enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP who receive a dental sealant on a permanent molar tooth.

To help states meet these and other state-specific oral health care access goals, CHCS launched the Medicaid Oral Health Learning Collaborative, with support from the DentaQuest Foundation. Teams from seven states — Arizona, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, and Washington — participated in the initiative, which included peer-to-peer learning, as well as individual and group technical assistance from national experts in oral health quality-improvement. Teams were composed of leadership from state Medicaid dental, quality improvement, and information technology departments.