Dr. Johnston sees many children in his Ingham County dental office, but like many dentists in Michigan, he doesn't see patients enrolled in Medicaid.
"For me to literally place a patient in the chair, the cost is about 27 to 30 dollars. When Medicaid doesn't even cover the cost to get them to sit in the chair, you're seating them, and it's a losing proposition for the dentist," said Dr. Mark Johnston, a General Dentist in Lansing.
But come October first, Doctor Johnston will treat children enrolled in Medicaid. That's when Ingham County will become the 78th of 83 counties in Michigan to get "The Healthy Kids Dental Program"- a program which, unlike traditional Medicaid dental coverage, covers most dental treatment for children, with the dentist only taking a small cut in reimbursement compared to private insurance.
"The patient doesn't pay anything out of pocket in the healthy kids dental program," Johnston.
In counties that don't have the Healthy Kids Dental program, the majority of Medicaid enrolled did not see a dentist in 2011. Only 34 percent of Medicaid enrolled kids received care state-wide, in healthy kids counties. Those numbers were better than the state average, with 56 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children visiting the dentist.
"When the dental care is available in the community, and when you have 80 percent of the dentists participating in that program, that it's just a win win situation," said Tom Kochheiser, a representative for the Michigan Dental Association.
But not all kids are having their problems taken care of. Even in "Healthy Kids" counties, more than 40 percent of children aren't seeing a dentist, even though visits are free, and the majority of dentists accept the program.
"It's transportation issues, people don't understand the value, there are cultural, language barriers sometimes around the state, so we really have to get people to understand that that care is available," said Kochheiser
And it's important. Dr. Johnston says to bring your child to the dentist when they turn two or three, so they can get used to the experience and any major problems can be addressed early. Come fall, parents in Ingham County will have another option to make sure that happens.