A new survey, sponsored by the Children’s Dental Health Project, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, DC, finds that only 22% of Americans correctly identify dental services for children as one of the 10 “essential health benefits” in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While 42% of those surveyed said that children’s dental benefits were included in the ACA, only 22% correctly identified children up to age 19 as the only age group included in the law’s essential health benefits.

“It concerns us that so many people are not aware that the ACA creates a pathway to dental coverage for kids and teens,” said Patrice Pascual, executive director of the Children’s Dental Health Project. “Those with coverage are more likely to get dental care, and prevention is cost-effective.”

The survey also found that 33% of adults say that either they or a family member have a toothache or some other problem with their teeth or gums “that needs to be addressed.” In addition, nearly four out of 10 report delaying a dental visit over the past 12 months because of expected out-of-pocket costs.

According to the Children’s Dental Health Project, the survey findings about tooth or gum problems are noteworthy given that the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that Americans made roughly 882,000 visits to hospital emergency departments in 2010 for preventable dental conditions. The agency projected that nearly 48,000 of these dental-related emergency trips were made by children.

Under the ACA, children’s dental coverage must be offered to families buying health insurance in the new state-based and federally facilitated marketplaces. Depending on the state, pediatric dental benefits may be offered through: 1) a qualified health plan (QHP) that includes dental coverage; or 2) a stand-alone dental plan purchased in conjunction with a QHP.

Unless a state requires it, separate pediatric dental coverage is not a required purchase inside the marketplaces. However, outside of the marketplaces, enrollees must purchase children’s dental coverage through their health plan or give “reasonable assurance” that they have purchased it through a marketplace-certified, stand-alone dental plan.

According to the Children’s Dental Health Project, the results of its survey are consistent with other polls revealing significant gaps in the public’s knowledge of the ACA. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that 46% of uninsured Americans were unaware that the law provides financial assistance to lower-income people to help them buy insurance.

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted by Wakefield Research, is a nationally representative sample, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%.