According to new reports published by the American Dental Association (ADA), adult Americans (age 18-64) are going to the dentist for routine oral health and hygiene or needed dental care less than they did a decade ago. In contrast to dental care visits for children and seniors, visits for most Americans declined.
Insurance Access Leads to Utilization
In a report on the overall utilization of dental care among the three classes of Americans, children, adults, and seniors, the American Dental Association showed that the biggest impact on whether adults got dental care was their insurance status. Although age was certainly a major factor (adults age 50-64 were nearly 50% more likely to see a dentist than adults age 19-34), an adult’s access to private dental insurance more than doubled the likelihood that they had seen a dentist in the last year. A person with public or no access to insurance were about as likely to visit the dentist (19.7% vs. 18.0%), but a person with private insurance was much more likely to go to the dentist (49.8%).
Cost Is a Major Barrier to Utilization
In another report on the reasons why people avoided dental care, it turns out the cost, not surprisingly, is the biggest barrier to people getting dental care. The report revealed that 52.5% of people surveyed cited cost as the reason why they had unmet dental care needs, followed by lack of insurance (15.1%) and difficulty getting to appointments (12.7%). About 16% of those surveyed cited other reasons for not getting dental care, including dental anxiety. Adults age 21-34 were most likely to cite cost as a barrier.
A Large Cavity in Health Care Reform?
Despite the fact that dental care is in decline among adults, especially those who are unable to obtain private dental insurance, the current health care reform law (the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare”) makes no provision for increasing access to dental insurance or dental care for adults, although it does make some provision for increased dental care for children. This is despite the fact that emergency room visits (commonly cited as a factor in rising health care costs) for infected teeth have doubled in recent years.
Don’t Avoid the Dentist
If you are among the two-thirds of adults who have been avoiding a trip to the dentist this year, don’t put it off any longer. Dental problems may start small, but they become more serious (and more expensive to treat) the longer they are left untreated.