In an effort to link insurance coverage with use of dental services and associated oral health outcomes, researchers recently conducted a study in which they evaluated data spanning a period of 18 years. While their findings are not shocking (to me, at least), they can now say, without question, that those who were enrolled in private or public dental care plans were more likely to receive dental care.
The authors of the study used data from the National Health Interview Survey, which was conducted by the Census Bureau. They examined information from more than 65,000 participants from 1997 through 2014, according to a recent article from the Dental Tribune. They focused on the associations between dental visits and unmet dental needs of children in the United States, aged 2-17, based on their insurance type. The findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.
Overall, they found that the number of uninsured children decreased by 58% over the time period, “taken into consideration with a substantial shift from private to public insurance coverage.” Children who were privately insured had a significantly lower level of unmet dental needs, with a higher frequency of dental visits when compared to those who were publicly insured. However, the numbers showed that public insurance has lowered the levels of unmet dental needs since 1997, by 14.5%.
Furthermore, while researchers found that publicly insured children who had visited the dentist during the past 12 months had lower unmet dental needs, this association was not found in children who were privately insured. This suggests that private insurance may not be as effective as public in lowering unmet needs through increased dental visits.
“The shift toward the use of public insurance along with a significant association between unmet needs and dental visits support the effectiveness of publicly funded programs in facilitating the use of dental services in the United States,” stated the lead author, Dr. Maryam Sharifzadeh-Amin, from the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
The debate about public vs private insurance will most-definitely continue in the coming years, but at least improvements are being made to the oral health of many of the children in our country.