Free dental care services for children expanded

Study: Cavity rate has not declined, more preventive measures needed.

January 8, 2017 21:08
3 minute read.
Tel Aviv beach

Children enjoy a sunny winter day on a Tel Aviv beach. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Children up to the age of 15 can now get free basic dental care from their health funds starting on Sunday as a result of the recent addition of NIS 40 million to the basket of health services.

With one year of age added to the eligibility cutoff of 14, an additional 145,000 children have joined the 2.44 million in the subsidized system eligible in 2016, a Health Ministry spokesman said, but did not explain why the cavity rate has not dropped despite growth in the use of free dental treatment.

In 2010, the basket included basic free dental care for children up to age eight. It was expanded to 12 years in 2013 and has increased incrementally since.

In addition to basic care, children going to health fund dentists can now have harmful plaque – hard layers of bacteria stuck on the teeth – removed for free once a year.

In 2015, half of children over the age of four received dental treatment from their health funds, though the services are available from the age of one, when a baby’s first teeth usually appear.

The ministry said this figure show that the reform, pushed by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, was a “success.” It added that for the first time in a decade, there was a nominal decline in household expenditures for dental care, a number that includes that category of spending on adults and children older than 15.

Litzman commented that the expansion to 15-year-olds “brings social justice to children,” and that he intends to gradually expand the program through to the age of 18.

However, Dr. Shlomo Zusman, head of dental services in the Health Ministry and one of the authors of a study published in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research, found that the rate of cavities in the children has not declined.

The article, “Does dental health of six-year-olds reflect the reform of the Israeli dental care system?” by Lena Natapov and Shlomo Zusman (both of the ministry’s dental division, who wrote the article with Avi Sasson of the Association of Public Health) stated: “Dental caries prevalence was rather consistent, an average of over two teeth affected per child.

Although there is no major change in comparison to former surveys, there is more treated than untreated disease. In the present survey, [the number of teeth damaged by decay and restored] is higher than in the past, especially in the Jewish sector where it is the main component. It is still lower in the Arab sector.”

The study covered health fund clinic dental care for children in 23 local authorities, with the city of Jerusalem was included because of its size, the authors wrote. A total of 1,210 children were examined.

Of these, 61.7% suffered from tooth decay and only 38.3% were free of cavities.

The authors concluded that “in order to reduce caries prevalence, preventive measures such as school dental services and drinking water fluoridation should be extended and continued.”

The long-standing fluoridation of potable water was canceled a few years ago by then-health minister MK Yael German, and it has not yet been restored, even though public health experts opposed German’s policy and wanted immediately to reverse it.

“Primary preventive dental services should be established for children from birth, with an emphasis on primary health care and educational settings, such as family health centers and kindergartens,” the authors concluded.

A ministry spokesman, asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment, said the share of children being taken by parents for free dental care has risen consistently.

“The proportion of treated children increased from 18% in 2011 to 34% in the year 2015.

The most treated age group is six to eight years,” the spokesman said. “The preventive component increased since 2012 as the restorative component decreased. Not all the children need dental treatment, so we don’t expect the rate will reach 100%.”

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