While dental decay is highly preventable, limited access to dental care contributes to high rates of childhood dental disease, particularly among low-income and minority children.

In New Jersey, the Medicaid Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) data revealed that just 15 percent of all eligible children aged 0 to 6 years received any dental service in FY 2006 and only 13 percent in that age group received preventive dental care. To improve pediatric dental care in New Jersey and ensure that children receive EPSDT dental benefits, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) developed New Jersey Smiles: A Medicaid Quality Collaborative to Improve Oral Health in Young Kids (NJ Smiles). The 18-month effort was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The initiative engaged the state’s five Medicaid managed care health plans — AmeriChoice of NJ, AMERIGROUP NJ, Health Net, Horizon NJ Health and University Health Plans — along with NJ Medicaid, NJ Head Start, and other regional partners who are committed to improving access to oral health services for young children. The NJ Smiles quality workgroup undertook an effort to tie the importance of good oral health to overall health and to engage primary care and dental providers to establish dental homes for children at risk. Resources and tools created for New Jersey were disseminated nationally (see below) to inform additional states and health plans on strategies for improving pediatric oral health services.