Dental Insurance Doesn’t Always Lead to Dental Care

At this point in time, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people have heard of President Obama’s health care reform, the Affordable Care Act.  Perhaps you’ve heard it referred to as “Obamacare,” or are simply aware that all Americans are supposed to have access to health insurance, thanks to the current administration.  With this revolutionary new law, all citizens are mandated to carry health insurance with the hopes for improved access to quality care. But have you heard the classic idiom, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?”  If all individuals have access to benefits, will they use them? A new study has discovered that the answer to this question is “no,” at least in terms of dental insurance.

Research conducted at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that dental insurance alone is not enough to get people into the dental chair.  According to first author, Richard J. Manski, DDS, MBA, PhD, professor and chief of Dental Public Health, “you need to offer some inducements, some promotional campaign to change people’s attitudes and beliefs.” Data from the Health and Retirement Study of 2008 was analyzed to learn more about which older Americans had insurance, which did not, and who was receiving dental care.  Personal characteristics, such as race, marital status, age, gender, and health status were also factored in.  Researchers found that when coverage was offered to uninsured individuals, many chose not to seek out dental care.

Some factors attributed to this behavior can’t be changed, such as age and gender, but others can be impacted through outreach.  For many individuals, knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, health status, and income keep them from seeing a dentist, but the scientists believe that through education and marketing outreach, these people may change their oral hygiene habits.  If more people understand the important role oral health plays in overall wellness, they may be more likely to seek care.  Additional strategies suggested by researchers included lowering the unemployment rate and increasing the number of providers available.  Experts agree that the process of getting people to use dental coverage should not be viewed as a short-term process.  According to Manski, “we need to set long-term goals for such things and understand that dental coverage and use is a long-term issue.” Visiting a dentist for regular cleanings and exams is viewed by many as an expendable luxury, unnecessary to maintain health.  This trend is unlikely to change without public outreach and education, sparking many to call for more national oral health initiatives.

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