Dental Trends, Dental Research

Why do many Americans skip the dentist?

December 09, 2016

According to a recent United Press International article, Americans are more likely to skip dental care because of cost than they are to skip any other type of health care. A study conducted by Marko Vujicic (Chief Economist of the ADA’s Health Policy Institute) found that nearly 13 percent of working-age adults forgo dental treatment because of cost.

These findings aren’t too surprising for patients under public health insurance programs, which offer little access to dental care. Medicare offers no dental benefits at all (aside from certain dental services provided in hospitals, under Medicare Part A). Medicaid covers children’s dental treatment, but that doesn’t always apply to adults. In 22 states, adults with Medicaid are only covered for emergency dental visits.

But cost was also a factor for those with private health insurance, even though such insurance typically offers broader coverage. This may be due to the significant coinsurance that often places 20 to 50 percent of the procedure costs with the patient. The out-of-pocket portion of the bill can be a major deterrent, especially for patients in need of more costly procedures, such as root canals.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the ADA Health Policy Institute that examined perceptions of oral health came to the same conclusions. A full 59% of respondents who hadn’t visited the dentist in the last twelve months cited cost as the main reason for not seeking dental care. In fact, this is a big reason why a majority of Americans don't have access to dental care. 

Beyond the well-documented health benefits of regular oral care, there are broader, less tangible implications to this trend of infrequent visits. 1 in 4 adults surveyed claim to avoid smiling due to the condition of their teeth, and 1 in 5 experienced anxiety related to the condition of their mouth and teeth.