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Cost Remains Barrier to Accessing Oral Health Care

As the connection between oral and overall health becomes clearer, patients are increasingly motivated to achieve and maintain good oral health.

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MoneyAs the connection between oral and overall health becomes clearer, patients are increasingly motivated to achieve and maintain good oral health. Unfortunately, barriers to care persist, as a recent survey reveals 75% of Americans have experienced challenges accessing dental care.

A survey commissioned by DentaQuest, a Boston-based oral health care company, asked 2300 Americans — including dentists, physicians, patients, employee benefits administrators and Medicaid administrators — about the problems surrounding the U.S. oral health care system. The report, “Reversible Decay: Oral Health Is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve,” notes that more than half of patients (51%) are concerned about their oral health, making it the top concern over cardiovascular, eye, digestive, mental and skin health. But accessing oral health care is difficult; among the survey respondents, 52% cited cost and 31% listed lack of insurance as the main roadblocks to receiving dental treatment.

Of those polled, 70% said oral health care is “expensive.” Aside from the cost barrier, 32% characterized dental care as “scary;” 28% described it as “confusing;” 27% said it is “inconvenient;’” and 9% of respondents confessed they are uncertain about how often preventive oral health visits are needed.

“Only 49% of patients see the connection between oral health and heart disease, and 41% see the connection with diabetes. This shows the clear need for patient education about the impact oral health has on overall health, and the importance of preventive care,” says Alison Corcoran, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for DentaQuest.

Despite the clear connection between oral health, certain diseases and quality of life, America’s health care system is at a crossroads. Patients and health care professionals believe the U.S. oral health care system is failing Americans, and do not expect any positive changes over the next five years. The report offers five solutions to address these challenges: prevention, medical-dental integration, expanded access, comprehensive adult benefits, and value-based care. (For more, see “Exploring Alternative Payment Models for Oral Health Care,” available at DecisionsInDentistry.com.)

Among the respondents, 99% of dentists agree that providing preventive screenings, fluoride treatment, radiographs, oral prophylaxis and exams in nontraditional care locations will improve overall health and also reduce costs. When asked which innovative practices may be effective in overcoming barriers to care, dentists supported school-based dentistry (68%), collaborative care teams (64%), and wraparound services (46%) — such as transportation or child care — to facilitate regular dental appointments.

From Decisions in Dentistry. February 2020;6(2):10.

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