Nationwide, 20% of consumers in the United States say they never visit the dentist or only do so when there is an urgent need, according to a survey from FAIR Health. This increases to 30% for households with annual incomes less than $35,000 and falls to less than 10% for households with incomes higher than $100,000.
African-Americans, Latinos, low-income households, and adults with a high school diploma or less visited the dentist less frequently than other racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups. Also, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to report that a member of their household visited an emergency room for oral healthcare in the past 5 years.
“Generally, a dentist’s office or a dental clinic is the better choice for dental services,” said Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health. “Unfortunately, lower-income consumers might delay dental care to avoid out-of-pocket expenses. Residents of underserved communities also face cost and transportation hurdles in seeking care. Sometimes the delay in care can lead to more serious health problems.”
Considering the costs, 11% said they have used or would consider “daily deal” sites for discounted access to dental services. Adults age 18 to 34, African-Americans, Latinos, and men reported the strongest interest in using these sites to save money.
Latinos are the most likely to report that a member of their household received dental care at a community clinic in the past 5 years. Adults with a high school education or less are most likely to say they would receive care from a dental school or community health clinic to save money.
When it comes to selecting dental coverage, total out-of-pocket cost was the primary concern. Next, the cost of the monthly premium and their dentist’s inclusion in the plan’s network ranked equally as concerns. The number of providers in the network, however, ranked low as a concern among every age cohort, ethnic, and socioeconomic group.
And, the ADA and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry both recommend taking infants to the dentist once the first tooth appears, or no later than their first birthday. Yet only 15% said the first visit should be when the first tooth appears and only 10% said it should be before the first birthday—key findings, since preventable tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease.
Pediatric dental care, though, is included as an essential benefit in the Affordable Care Act and offered by plans through the federal and state exchanges. Several states require exchange healthcare plans to include dental care for adults and children. However, most states do not require the purchase of dental insurance for children or adults.
“Understanding consumer attitudes about oral health and insurance and dental utilization trends can help industry leaders take steps to equip individuals with the resources they need to become informed consumers,” said Gelburd, “and consequently to help improve oral health and address health disparities.”
The survey sample consisted of 1,028 adults based in the United States contacted via landline and mobile phone between July 23 and July 26, 2015. Its full results are available online.