Recently, staff from the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Health Policy Resources Center (HPRC) has been working on the analysis of data from a number of sources regarding trends in the dentistry world. They have drawn several conclusions from their studies, however none as startling as the fact that fewer adults are visiting the dentist in recent years. According to the ADA News article, “Fewer adults visiting the dentist,” income level is not a factor that is affecting this trend, which began before the Great Recession kicked off in recent years. Managing vice president of the HPRC, Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., claims that dentistry is at a crossroads and blames reductions in adult dental benefits, with employers eliminating dental coverage from their plans and Medicaid programs slimming down dental benefits for adults. While it appears that financial burdens should be responsible for the decline, the numbers suggest otherwise. The overall percentage of adults who went to the dentist in the past year dropped from 41% in 2003 to 37% in 2010, with adults aged 35-49 dropping most significantly. Decline in the middle income bracket went from 38% to 34% while higher income adults decreased utilization from 54% to 51%. Dr. Vujicic believes that major change is coming to the profession however with health care reform set to be fully implemented within the coming months.
The report wasn’t all doom and gloom as analysis suggested that the opposite is happening among the nation’s children. More low-income kids are visiting the dentist now than 10 years ago, 53% more to be exact. Researchers credit an increase in advocacy efforts, including the enactment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, enhanced financial resources, and an increase in participation in Medicaid programs for the improved statistics. While it is highly encouraging to see success in the improvement of oral health among the youth of our nation, the team of researchers, led by Dr. Vujicic, agree that “now more than ever, it is crucial for dentists, the public, educators, and policymakers to work together to reduce barriers to dental care to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to be mouth healthy for life.”
Whether it is the lack of dental insurance, concern over a potential financial burden, or fear of visiting the dentist that is keeping you away, understand that biannual exams and professional cleanings are necessary in order to achieve and maintain a high level of oral health. Recent research has proven that a link most certainly exists between overall health and oral hygiene, with several chronic health conditions, including diabetes, dementia, and heart disease, being directly affected by poor oral health. It is disturbing to realize that with this knowledge also comes a trend of fewer adults seeking dental care, when in fact, the opposite should be occurring. Have you been the dentist in the last 12 months? If not, what’s your excuse?