MYTH: Free dental clinics take care of the people who can’t afford dental care.
FACT: Charity is not a health care system. It is, in effect, the definition of second-tier care.
Dentists who participate in charity care events, such as Missions of Mercy, should be commended, however, charity care is episodic with long waiting lines for services and offers no dental home or opportunity for follow-up care. It is, in effect, the definition of second-tier care – those who can and can’t access or afford care. The American Dental Association (ADA) agrees. In a 2012 position paper, the ADA states, “Charity is not a health care system, and dentists alone can never successfully bear the burden of providing continuous care to these populations without better support from state and federal governments.”
Furthermore, while federally qualified health centers (FQHC) and other community health centers are the flagship of the health care delivery safety net, they do not have the capacity to care for all children and adults in need of dental care in Florida.
Charity dental care and FQHCs don’t have enough capacity to address the dental needs of Florida communities. Consequently, the people that can’t access regular dental care end up in the emergency room (ER). In 2021, there were approximately 120,000 ER visits and hospital admissions for nontraumatic dental conditions in Florida. These trips fail to address the real need of the residents and are very costly to the patients and the state. The same year (2021), hospitals billed about $550 millions for these visits for largely preventable dental issues.
Additionally, there is a shortage of dentists that provide free or low-income dental care. The American Dental Association reports that only 17% of Florida dentists actually see any Medicaid patients. It’s not surprising then that in 2019, 59% of Medicaid-eligible children, approximately 1,400,000, did not receive any dental care at all.