More than 400,000 children in the United States are in foster care. While almost all of them get state-mandated dental insurance through Medicaid, children in foster care reported more oral health problems than children who aren’t in foster care, according to a recent study.

And it’s not just dental care. Foster children’s overall health outcomes are worse than the outcomes of children from more economically secure backgrounds. What’s causing this rift?

Oral health problems may begin before foster care placement

Children who enter the foster care system are there for a variety of reasons, but a leading cause is neglect. In 2019, about 656,000 American children were the victims of reported neglect or abuse.

When children are neglected, they may not be taught about the importance oral hygiene or given the tools they need to maintain their oral health, like toothbrushes and floss. Instead, these children often develop chronic conditions, such as gum disease, and rarely see a dentist. If those children are taken in to foster care, their history of chronic oral health problems may contribute to more frequent dental issues.

Even worse, children in the foster system suffer from high rates of emotional abuse, with children of Native American, Black and Hispanic descent particularly vulnerable to reoccurring maltreatment. That means that foster children may not receive care for chronic oral health problems that can lead to more severe oral care outcomes.

Struggles in getting access to care

The current nature of the foster care system means that the average foster kid moves home three times during their time in care, with some children moving more than 15 times a year.

The instability of life in the system makes it difficult for healthcare professionals to care for these kids, since they could move suddenly. Coordinating care can contribute to delays, since state agencies, birth parents and foster parents all have different responsibilities and levels of control.

Finding a dentist who accepts Medicaid can be difficult and can lead to delays in care that could result in worse diagnoses. Options like teledentistry may help for families with consistent access to the internet, but not all dentists provide telemedicine services.

How you can help

While kids fostered by your employees are covered by Medicaid, there are still ways you can help. You can regularly remind your employees of the importance of oral health care for all children. Consider putting together a small package of helpful materials for any employee who decides to foster. Delta Dental has a variety of wellness materials that may help:

You can also modify your current benefits packages to support children’s health with effective preventive tools like sealants or important orthodontic devices like braces.