On February 25, 2007, seventh grader Deamonte Driver died from what many would have considered a simple toothache. Deamonte died because an abscess in his tooth was not treated, and the infection spread to his brain. This tragedy sparked the media’s attention and national outrage at the state of our oral health care. As a homeless child whose Medicaid coverage had lapsed, he was especially vulnerable. If he had had basic dental coverage, and his infected tooth had been removed, he could have been saved.
February marks the fifth year since Deamonte’s passing, and it is also National Children’s Dental Health Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of good oral health. It is important to remember that untreated tooth decay is an enormous issue among children in the U.S. In fact, about 6.5 million children enrolled in Medicaid had untreated tooth decay in 2005. Worse still, there are striking disparities among these numbers, and the impact of this risk hurts some communities harder than others. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that “Black and Hispanic children and those living in families with lower incomes have more untreated decay.”