Oral Health Utilization for Children and Adults
Many people report that they do not regularly visit a dentist or oral health provider, even though routine, preventive care is important for maintaining good oral and overall health. Individuals who forego routine care are more likely to miss school or work, report worse overall health, and end up seeking costly emergency care for untreated dental problems.
Dental utilization, measured by going to at least one general dental visit a year, varies based on age and other factors. Between 2000 and 2013, the percentage of children and seniors who had an annual visit increased overall, while the percentage of adults who visited the dentist declined. In 2013, 48 percent of children had seen a dentist in the prior year, compared to 42 percent of seniors and 36 percent of adults between 19 and 64 years old.
Several factors account for these trends. Federal law requires dental coverage under Medicaid for children, but not for adults. Many adults lack dental coverage, and even those with insurance face barriers to care. Medicaid dental benefits for adults vary among states, ranging from no coverage in some states to extensive coverage in others. Over this time period, fewer working-age adults had dental benefits through their employer.
State policymakers have taken varied steps to address oral health challenges. Budget pressures and the cost of providing dental benefits have led some states to reduce or eliminate Medicaid dental benefits for adults or consider other short-term cost-containing policies. Meanwhile, other states have taken steps to cover adults with Medicaid, expand the oral health workforce, integrate oral health and primary health care, and raise awareness about routine prevention and care.
For more information on state policy options, visit NCSL’s oral health webpage.
Source: American Dental Association, Health Policy Institute, 2015