Dental care utilization for low income pregnant women is met with challenges in the traditional dentist-centered model of care. County-level measures provide insights for policy and roles for stakeholders that extend beyond the dentist-patient relationship. We examined county-level data to generate hypotheses about factors that influence utilization of dental services in North Carolina’s Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) program.
County-level Medicaid utilization data for dental services for 2014–2016 were pooled to get mean county estimates of dental utilization in the MPW program. Descriptive statistics and multivariate regression models of dental utilization and county-level measures are presented. Data used were collected by NC Child and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings Reports. USDA Economic Research Service data were used to categorize counties in terms of Farming, Recreation, Persistent Poverty, and metro/non-metro status using Rural Urban Continuum Codes.
Dental utilization ranged from 1–26% with a median of 8.5% across the 100 counties of North Carolina. Strong patterns linking utilization of dental services in the MPW program to contextual social measures of well-being emerged, specifically, increased reporting of child abuse and neglect, elevated infant mortality, poor quality of life, and worse ranking in years of potential life lost. Counties with persistent poverty had lower rates of dental utilization.
Utilization of dental services in the MPW program is generally low. Patterns identify the potential for enhancing community-clinical linkages to improve birth outcomes and care coordination for pregnant women to enhance dental utilization in this population.
Dental coverage in the Medicaid program in most states is administered separately from medical coverage. The separation of the funding mechanisms adds a further layer of complexity to care integration. Efforts to enhance dental care for pregnant women in the Medicaid program may benefit from policy that aligns incentives for care coordination within the community. Policy that extends the window of eligibility for dental benefits to 24 months after the birth of the child will help women complete the dental treatment that is needed. This also leverages the value of care coordination for community stakeholders from diverse child health sectors.