Almost one-third of Americans cannot afford cost of dental care

Dentistry

The cost of dental care, usually forgotten about, puts dental care beyond the reach of nearly one in three Americans. Photo Credit: Leeds City Council/Wikimedia Commons.

The cost of doctors and medications gets a lot of attention but another sector of health care, namely dental care, is largely ignored. The cost of dental care is considerable, as up to 100 million people, fully one-third of the nation, can’t afford it.

A real kick in the teeth

One of the most important aspects of health care is one that goes often unpublicized, for whatever reason, which is one’s teeth. Dentists certainly aren’t glamorized and the dental care industry has largely been ignored in efforts to overhaul health care.

However, dental care is much more expensive than routine medical care. Insurers typically do not cover dental care nearly to the extent that they cover health care and people put it off for the same reasons as they put off going to the doctor, namely that they can’t afford it. A Consumer Reports survey in January found that 42 percent of respondents who had delayed dental care had done so due to high costs, despite CR readers having better-than-average insurance. A further 23 percent did so because the procedure wasn’t covered and 24 percent did so because they had already used their maximum allotted coverage.

Full third of the nation goes without

Worse still, a recent PBS investigation concluded that up to 100 million Americans, fully one-third of the nation, can’t afford dental care of any kind, according to the Huffington Post. The Institute of Medicine found in a study published last year that one out of every 16 children wasn’t receiving dental care because their parent couldn’t afford it in 2008, a total of 5 million children.

Dental services are only a small part of the overall health care industry. According to Slate, overall health care spending was $2.2 trillion in 2007, with dental care making up $95.2 billion of that. However, a key distinction is how much patients have to spend out-of-pocket for services. In 2007, 10.3 percent of physician costs, 3.3 percent of hospital costs and 26.8 percent of nursing care costs were paid in cash, compared to 44.2 percent of dental costs.

Many forced to use ER

Some are forced to wait until their problems are so bad they have to visit an emergency room for dental care. According to NPR, a Pew Center study found 800,000 visits in 2009 were made to various emergency rooms nationwide for routine and preventable dental problems. According to PBS, that marked a 20 percent increase over 2006. Patients who do so often pay 10 times what a dentists’ office would charge.

Part of the problem is that many who do so lack dental insurance, which 97 percent of Americans with private dental benefits receive through their employer, according to Slate. Compounding the problem is that many community centers, which offer low-cost care to disadvantaged people, are losing federal funding at a fast clip. Unfortunately, almost half the nation lacks dental insurance, as the National Association of Dental Plans estimates only 152 million people are covered under a dental plan.

Sources

Consumer Reports

Huffington Post

Slate

NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/02/28/147587896/dental-visits-to-ers-are-on-the-rise

PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/health-science-technology/dollars-and-dentists/more-americans-visiting-er-for-dental-care/

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