Here’s Why Americans Don’t See Their Dentist as Much as They Should

Dentists are scary, many believe. Kids and adults alike dread the idea of seeing their dentist. You would think that dental phobia is the reason behind the majority of Americans who refuse to get their teeth checked, but according to the American Dental Association (ADA), it only accounts for 22 percent.

In fact, a separate survey by the ADA reveals that Americans do want to visit their dentist but can’t.  Eighty-five percent of Americans recognize the importance of oral health, yet 42 percent don’t see their dentist as much as they want. Why?

Dental Care: Only for the Rich?

The ADA says that 59 percent cite the expensive cost of dental care as their reason for not seeing the dentist. In fact, along with eye care and annual exams, dental care is among the treatments that Americans put off the most – all because they can’t afford it. The cost is the main culprit behind dental health culprit regardless of age, income, or source of dental benefits.

Of course, this problem burdens lower-income households more. Data from a Harris Poll survey shows that 65 percent of families with less than a $50,000 household income delay medical care, compared to the 40 percent of $100,000-above earning households who do the same.

Medicaid Dental Coverage and Eligibility

On top of the exorbitant cost of dental care is the lack of insurance coverage. Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for people with limited resources, only provides dental coverage for children under 21. Under federal law, states can decide whether they’ll include dental benefits for adults in their Medicaid programs.

Most states provide Medicaid dental benefits for seniors, pregnant women, and people with disabilities, but the coverage still varies. As of January 2018, 14 states provide emergency-only dental to ease pain, 17 provide benefits limited to preventive, diagnostic, and minor restorative procedures, and 17 states provide an extensive mix of dental treatments.

To illustrate, if you were to get an emergency wisdom teeth removal in West Jordan, Utah’s Medicaid program can cover it for you. But if you were to get the same procedure in Memphis, you’d have to pay for it out of your pocket because Tennessee is among the three remaining states that don’t offer Medicaid dental benefits.

Medicaid Expansion Decisions of Different States

Thanks to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. states have started broadening their insurance coverage, including dental care benefits. Beginning in 2013, 36 states have since expanded their coverage.

But the efforts to increase access to oral health care will still continue for the next few years. Although many states are now providing dental care benefits, they’re facing a new problem. Plenty of dentists refuse to participate in the Medicaid program. This means that even though low-income individuals can possibly get a dental treatment for free, they will have a hard time looking for a dentist who offers the service.

The private and public sectors both have to be accountable in providing accessible and affordable health care for Americans. Oral care is often overlooked and neglected, but it’s vital in maintaining overall health.