Should Parents Have to Pony Up for Kids’ Dental Bills?

More than 1 in 5 kids in the U.S. have untreated cavities. Is it parental negligence to blame?

Should Parents Have to Pony Up for Kids’ Dental Bills? Photo (cc) by Finizio

Many American children are walking around with a mouthful of dental fillings, the result of poor dental hygiene. Another 20 percent of U.S. kids have cavities that are untreated, which could lead to big (seriously expensive) problems down the road.

Parents are supposed to take care of their children, teeth included. If those little kiddie teeth rot, who should be on the hook to pay for their dental treatment? According to OZY writer Shannon Sims, parents should have to pay for their kids’ treatment, out of pocket.

“This might sound harsh, but the system as is clearly isn’t working to the advantage of kids,” OZY said.

According to NBC, 1 in 3 kids between ages 2 and 8 have had a cavity. Among kids ages 12 to 19, more than half, 58 percent, have had a cavity in their adult teeth.

It’s common to use taxpayer money and state care, including Obamacare, to provide dental care for children. In fact, Congress is considering the Action for Dental Health Act, which would provide more government funding for pediatric dental health programs.

Sims said it may be time to rethink how we approach dental care for children in the United States.

“We are all for access to care, but really: Should the government be bankrolling parents’ negligence? Already the country’s largest dental insurance company pays out $42 million a year on claims for stainless steel crowns, the kind used for kid teeth. Most of that spending could be prevented if parents paid a bit more attention to making sure their kids skipped the soda, not the brushing — especially when they’re too young to do it for themselves.”

OZY may have a point. Watching what your children eat (candy before bed probably isn’t a great idea) and helping them brush and floss their teeth is an easy and inexpensive way to prevent cavities. It’s sure a lot cheaper than the alternative.

Sadly, poor dental hygiene is often associated with lower-income families. The last thing we’d want to do is unfairly punish the poor, or give them one more bill they’d struggle to pay.

Still, holding parents accountable for their children’s cavities makes some sense. As Sims said:

“But then I remember Yellow Tooth John, one of my elementary school classmates in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Maybe if his mom knew she’d be fined for his dental problems, she wouldn’t have sent him to bed with a bottle of milk every night — and instead might have made him brush.”

I would have mixed feelings about making everyone, regardless of income, pay out of pocket for dental care for their children because frankly, poorer Americans who couldn’t afford it simply wouldn’t go. And left untreated, cavities can cause a whole host of other expensive health problems.

What do you think about making parents pay out of pocket for their children’s dental care? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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