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Barriers to improving oral health and access

Jul 13, 2012

Photo Source: Medical University of South Carolina

An estimated 45 million people under age 65 have no dental coverage and uninsured individuals pay nearly twice as much for dental services as those with insurance, according to a recently published report.

The study, published on the Kaiser EDU website and compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, covered a wide range of oral health issues, including coverage and financing of oral health, access to dental care and prevention methods.

One section of the report noted there are significant disparities in oral health among some racial and ethnic groups, and that ongoing dental problems persist among minority adults and children alike.

The comprehensive findings note three in ten African American and Hispanic children have untreated cavities, compared to one-fifth of White children.  Similarly, African American and Hispanic adults are also more likely to have untreated cavities than White adults.  The study reported that seniors particularly suffer from oral health issues, regardless of race; one-quarter of adults older than 65 have lost all their teeth.

Kaiser's research also found:

  • Only 44% of children covered by Medicaid received dental services in 2010

  • Few state’s Medicare programs cover comprehensive dental services for adults; most only provide emergency services such as tooth extractions

  • One quarter of Americans, or 25%, have limited or no access to oral health care

  • The Affordable Care Act requires private plans to offer children’s dental care coverage as an “essential health benefit” beginning 2014. This could increase access to dental care for millions of children

  • The coverage rates of employer health plans with dental coverage are significantly higher than those of individuals who directly purchase health insurance. Eight out of ten employer health insurance plans have higher coverage rates compared with three out of ten privately purchased plans.

  • White men over 45 have traditionally made up the core demographic of dentists, but that is shifting to include more women and minorities. The latter are more likely to establish practices in underserved communities and accept Medicaid patients.

Kaiser concludes that limitations in coverage, a shortage of dentists, and poor oral health awareness are barriers to utilization of dental care for all American populations.

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation,

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC
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