Children’s Access to Dental Care in Southeastern Pennsylvania

Posted by on September 28, 2009

84,000 children in region without proper dental care

Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness among children, affecting more than three quarters of adolescents and increasing in prevalence among younger children.  In addition to the damage done by tooth decay, poor oral health can lead to time spent away from school and recreation.

An analysis of data from Public Health Management Corporation’s 2008 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey, more than one in ten children ages 4 -1 7 in the five-county area (11.5%) went without a dental exam – over 84,000 children.

Dental health disparities were seen across the region by geography, income, race and ethnicity and health insurance status.

Compared to their suburban counterparts, children residing in Philadelphia are almost twice as likely to have not received a dental exam in the past year: 16.4% of children living in Philadelphia have not visited a dentist in the past year compared to 8.8% of children living in the surrounding suburban counties.

Within the five-county region, Philadelphia and Delaware Counties have the highest percentages of children who did not visit a dentist in the past year (16.4% and 13.1%, respectively), followed by Montgomery (8.9%), Chester (7.7%), and Bucks (5.8%) counties.

The analysis also showed that children living in poorer households (below 100% of the Federal Poverty Line) were more than three times less likely to have seen a dentist in the past year than children in non-poor households.

More than a quarter of Southeastern Pennsylvania children ages 4-17 (27.6%) living below the Federal Poverty Line did not see a dentist in the past year, compared to 8.5% of non-poor children.

Racial and ethnic disparities are also evident in children’s dental care in the region, according to the report. White children are more likely to see a dentist than are Latino or African American children. While 7.8% of White children did not see a dentist in the prior year, 12.5% of Latino children and 20.4% of Black or African American children did not have a dental exam during the same period.

Not surprisingly, insurance coverage was seen to be critical to obtaining dental care.  While 8% of children with private health insurance did not see a dentist in the past year, 40.0% of children without private or public health insurance went without dental care in the same time period. Nearly one in five children with Medicaid coverage (19.5%) and more than one in eight children (12.0%) insured by Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) did not have a dental visit.

For more information on children’s dental care in Southeastern Pennsylvania or the Community Health Data Base, email Rose Malinowski Weingartner at For a copy of the report, email Johanna Trowbridge at

More in "New Resources"

Stay Current in Philly's Higher Education and Nonprofit Sector

We compile a weekly email with local events, resources, national conferences, calls for proposals, grant, volunteer and job opportunities in the higher education and nonprofit sectors.