OPINION – Benjamin Franklin said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that doesn’t ring more true than with dental care.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 40 percent of children have decay by the time they reach kindergarten.

The importance of oral hygiene doesn’t stop at decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.  It can have profound impacts on our health as research has found that the inflammation from periodontal, or gum disease can put us at a greater risk for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 14% of all children aged 2-8 have untreated tooth decay.  But the numbers are significantly higher for both African-American children and Hispanic children whose rates are 21% and 19% respectively. African-American children and Hispanic children have double the rate of tooth decay of white children (10%).

So, what is going on?

More than 5.1 million California children receive dental care coverage through the Denti-Cal program.  But for nearly 60% of these children, that coverage is a cruel myth.  They might as well not be covered at all because they are not receiving any form of dental care.

I have been working hard to fix this broken system by exposing the reality that too many Californians on Denti-Cal are unable to obtain dental care. In the State Assembly, I chaired a hearing on Denti-Cal in Sacramento County where a pediatric dentist described why seeing patients as charity cases was easier and less expensive than accepting their Denti-Cal. Last December, the California State Auditor reported too few dentists accepted Denti-Cal, few people on Denti-Cal received any dental care, and the state did not determine if access to dental care was adequate as required by law.  This year I asked the Little Hoover Commission to study how to fix Denti-Cal.

I am continuing to hold the state department administering the Denti-Cal program, the Department of Health Care Services, accountable and working to ensure the state keeps its commitments to patients who depend on Denti-Cal for their oral health.  I want to ensure that children in the Sacramento region are getting the dental care they need to stay healthy.

For help in Sacramento, please call the Sacramento County Child Health and Disability Prevention (CHDP) office at (916) 875-7151.  The CHDP Program can work with you to find a dentist and a doctor for your child, schedule an exam and offer information about other resources that you need to keep your child healthy.

For help in West Sacramento, please call the Salud Clinic at (916) 403-2900.  The Salud Clinic offers comprehensive health care services including dental care.

Please don’t hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or need assistance. You can reach my office by phone at (916) 651-1529, or by email at


By Dr. Richard Pan

State Senator 6th District