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Too Many Adults Continue to Go without Dental Care

By Lydia Mitts,


Lack of access to dental care is a significant problem in American health care. Last week, USA Today reported that the number of adults seeking help in the emergency room for “long-delayed dental care” has doubled since 2000. This finding highlights data we released in May showing that dental care is one of the most persistent unmet health care needs for many adults.

Our report, Non-Group Health Insurance: Many Insured Americans with High Out-of-Pocket Costs Forgo Needed Health Care, presented new data on the portion of adults with non-group coverage in 2014 that went without needed care because they couldn’t afford it. We found that dental care was the most common type of health care service adults with non-group coverage (insurance not provided by an employer) skipped because of affordability issues.

Affordable Care Act dental requirements did not extend to adults

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made dental care a required benefit for children’s insurance, but it did not extend this requirement to insurance for adults. Therefore, many adults who buy non-group insurance may still have no dental coverage. In 2008, nearly 70 percent of people who bought health insurance on their own did not have dental coverage.  And without dental coverage, many adults struggle to get the dental care they need.

Our report’s findings reaffirmed that access to affordable dental care remains a problem for too many adults. We examined data on adults not getting needed dental care because they couldn’t afford it, and the findings were striking:

Nearly one in four (24 percent of) adults who were insured for a full year reported not getting needed dental care during the year due to affordability issues. While those with lower to middle incomes were most likely to have trouble affording this care, even among adults with incomes at or above 250 percent of poverty,it was still the most common type of care that they had to forgo because they could not afford it.

Congress should require ACA marketplace plans to include dental coverage for adults

This finding underscores the need to address the dental coverage gap in this country. Moving forward, it is critical that Congress requires all marketplace plans to include adult dental coverage. Without policies that expand access to affordable dental coverage to all adults, many adults will continue to be unable to afford the dental care they need.