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Pediatrics. 2004 Oct;114(4):e418-23.

Early preventive dental visits: effects on subsequent utilization and costs.

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Department of Pediatric Dentistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.



To determine the effects of early preventive dental visits on subsequent utilization and costs of dental services among preschool-aged children.


This investigation studied North Carolina children who were enrolled continuously in Medicaid from birth for a 5-year period. Our research design was a longitudinal cohort study that relied on 4 large administrative datasets, including North Carolina composite birth records from 1992, Medicaid enrollment and claims files from 1992 to 1997, and the Area Resource File. Our outcome measures included type of use and dentally related costs.


Of the 53591 Medicaid-enrolled children born in 1992, 9204 were continuously enrolled for 5 years and met our inclusion criteria. Twenty-three children had their first preventive dental visit before 1 year of age, 249 between 1 and 2 years, 465 between 2 and 3 years, 915 between 3 and 4 years, and 823 between 4 and 5 years. Children who had their first preventive dental visit by age 1 were more likely to have subsequent preventive visits but were not more likely to have subsequent restorative or emergency visits. Those who had their first preventive visit at age 2 or 3 were more likely to have subsequent preventive, restorative, and emergency visits. The age at the first preventive dental visit had a significant positive effect on dentally related expenditures, with the average dentally related costs being less for children who received earlier preventive care. The average dentally related costs per child according to age at the first preventive visit were as follows: before age 1, 262 dollars; age 1 to 2, 339 dollars; age 2 to 3, 449 dollars; age 3 to 4, 492 dollars; age 4 to 5, 546 dollars.


Our results should be interpreted cautiously, because of the potential for selection bias; however, we concluded that preschool-aged, Medicaid-enrolled children who had an early preventive dental visit were more likely to use subsequent preventive services and experience lower dentally related costs. In addition, children from racial minority groups had significantly more difficulty in finding access to dental care, as did those in counties with fewer dentists per population.

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