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06.08.2016 / Press Release

First-of-a-Kind Report Details Troubling State of Oral Health in U.S.

Washington, D.C. – The American Dental Association Health Policy Institute (HPI), in conjunction with Families USA, today released a first-of-its-kind report on the state of oral health among U.S adults, and some of the results are disturbing. Despite some improvements since a landmark Surgeon General’s report in 2000, unacceptable numbers of adults across all income levels suffer from dental problems that degrade their quality of life, but low-income individuals suffer the worst. And cost is a major factor that prevents them from getting the care they need, the report shows.

“Policy makers now have robust empirical data linking oral health – a long overlooked aspect of health care policy – to physical, social and economic well-being,” said Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist & vice president of HPI. “These numbers need to be a starting point for a national discussion about improving access to oral health care for adults in America.”

The report, Oral Health & Well-being in the United States, includes data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and is based on an innovative survey of nearly 15,000 adults nationwide.

Key findings include:

  • Low-income adults fare the worst. They are 10 times more likely to rate the overall condition of their mouth and teeth as poor, versus high-income adults, are nearly twice as likely to have the appearance of their teeth impact their ability to interview for a job, and are twice as likely to have problems biting or chewing.
  • Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said cost is the reason they hadn’t visited a dentist in the past 12 months. Although this was especially true for low-income adults (65 percent), 61 percent and 47 percent of middle- and high-income adults, respectively, said the same thing. Cost was the main barrier to care among adults who have private dental insurance as well.
  • Across all income levels, nearly 30 percent of those surveyed said life is “very often” or “occasionally” less satisfying because of the condition of their mouth or teeth.
  • One in four adults avoid smiling because of the condition of their mouth or teeth.
  • One in five adults experience anxiety over the condition of their mouth and teeth.

“When you see these kinds of problems across all ages and income levels, it becomes clear that we need to re-examine how we finance and deliver oral health care in America,” said Rachel Klein, director of organizational strategy for Families USA. “We know that these kinds of oral health conditions, if left untreated, can affect other chronic conditions, like diabetes, increase health care costs and even become life threatening.”

The report recommends extending comprehensive dental benefits to all adult Medicaid beneficiaries, re-examining how private dental insurance is structured so it helps pay for oral health outcomes, and establishing new federal data collection efforts that – as this report does – measure the contributions of oral health to an individual’s physical, social and emotional well-being.

“It is time to re-engineer the health care system so that it recognizes the crucial part oral health plays in all of our lives,” Vujicic said. “Put succinctly, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.”

An interactive policy roundtable to discuss the report will be held as a webinar at 12 p.m. (EDT)/11 a.m. (CDT), Thursday, June 9. (Register here). Besides Vujicic and Klein, participants are: Anne Schwartz, Executive Director, Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission; Marty Milkovic, Director, Care Coordination & Outreach, Connecticut Dental Health Partnership, and William Heller, Director, Provider Relations, Dental and NEMT Programs, Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

View additional infographics focused on the plight of low-income adults.