Access to dental care before, during and after pregnancy is a reproductive justice and birth equity issue. Pre-existing tooth and gum problems can be worsened by pregnancy and, in turn, cause pregnancy complications. The CDC reports that 60 to 75 percent of pregnant people have gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss and increase the likelihood of pre-eclampsia – a serious health condition. Some studies show that gum disease may also contribute to premature birth or low birthweight.

Despite these important health concerns, pregnant people often experience difficulty obtaining quality, affordable dental care, especially if they have low incomes and/or suffer from discrimination. There are only 23 states that offer extensive dental coverage as part of pregnancy-related Medicaid, while the other states have limited to no coverage.

This gap in coverage is particularly concerning since Medicaid pays for 42 percent of all births in the United States, according to the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS). That percentage is even higher – up to 62 percent – in some of the southern states that have no Medicaid dental coverage for pregnant people, such as Alabama and Tennessee, or only emergency coverage, such as Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Black, Latinx and Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by lack of pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage for dental care, since they account 57 percent of all births covered by Medicaid, far more than their share (40 percent) of all births.

That’s why Community Catalyst’s Dental Access Project and Women’s Health Program are partnering with Raising Women’s Voices to offer a free virtual convening on Nov. 16 and 18. Speakers will explain the interactions between oral health and pregnancy, the importance of preventive dental care and the need to improve dental coverage for pregnant people, especially those with Medicaid coverage. You can rsvp now and read on to learn more.

Raising Women’s Voice co-founder Byllye Avery knows firsthand what it feels like to experience poor oral health during pregnancy and will moderate the opening panel of the November convening. Avery grew up during the 1940s and 1950s in a segregated small Southern town and had limited access to preventive dental care. When Avery became pregnant in 1961, she experienced a really bad toothache and had her first tooth extraction. This repeated itself when she was pregnant with her second child in 1965. Many years later, she still has serious dental problems.

Although there have been improvements in the nation’s oral health since the 1960s, not all Americans have equal access to these improvements. Serious racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities persist, especially in Southern states like Florida, where Avery grew up. She went on to found the Black Women’s Health Imperative to address such inequities.

“Pregnancy can be taxing on our bodies, and this includes our teeth,” Avery says. “Losing a tooth during pregnancy should be an uncommon experience, but unfortunately that has not been the case for me and too many others.”

Even those the 59% of adults who are covered by private dental insurance have trouble affording the care they need. After giving birth to her daughter in 2014, Jen Kim experienced crumbling teeth and had to get two tooth implants. She still has to undergo another procedure that she described as having “the cost of a car.” Despite having dental coverage, she explains that her procedures were so expensive that they maxed out the yearly cap on what the insurance company would pay, meaning she had to pay out of pocket to cover crown procedures. She then had to plan accordingly for her tooth extraction and implant procedure to ensure there would be coverage.

Join us November 16 & 18 to learn more about the interactions between pregnancy and oral health! We will discuss promising policy and practice models that aim to increase access to dental care for pregnant people.  

Advocates from states with little or no Medicaid coverage for dental care during pregnancy will learn about policy options and advocacy strategies for improving coverage and access to care in their states. We will discuss a pilot project in New York City which integrates dental care into a pre-natal health clinic serving low-income patients. Participants will learn about how doulas, dental therapists and community health workers can help to improve awareness of the need for dental care among pregnant people.

Register for the convening HERE: