Health Policy

Preventive Dental Care Utilization for Preschool-aged Children in Medicaid: Parents’ Perceptions and Experiences with Medicaid Dentists

Askelson, N.M.; Chi, D.L.; Hanson, J.D.; Ortiz, C.; Momany, E.T.; Kuthy, R.A.; Damiano, P.C.


Background: Studies on the barriers to preventive dental care for preschool-aged children in Medicaid often focus on whether parents understand the importance of preventive dental care. Fewer studies have examined the perceptions and experiences of parents once their child begins utilizing dental care.

This qualitative study of parents who are using preventive dental care for their preschool-aged, Medicaid enrolled children uses parental perceptions and experiences to help us understand the barriers to preventive dental care.

Method: This qualitative study focused on41 parents who participated in focus groups designed to uncover barriers and facilitators to preventive dental care use for young children in Medicaid.

Results: Parents of preschool-aged children enrolled in Medicaid face a number of barriers when trying to utilize preventive dental care, even when the parents are experienced with accessing care for their young children. These barriers can be broadly categorized into system-level barriers and provider-level barriers. System-level barriers are related to the low number of dentists who accept Medicaid and/or young children. Provider-level barriers are centered on dentist behavior or clinic environment.

Conclusions: Families of preschool-aged children in Medicaid continue to encounter barriers to preventive care even after the child initially utilizes care, which suggests that access to dental care is an ongoing problem for young Medicaid-enrolled children. Interventions that address system-level and provider-level barriers to care can help to ensure continual access to preventive dental care through childhood for Medicaid-enrolled children.