Cost Remains Barrier to Accessing Oral Health Care
As the connection between oral health and overall health becomes clearer, patients are more motivated to maintain good oral health.
As the connection between oral health and overall health becomes clearer, patients are more motivated to maintain good oral health. Unfortunately, barriers to dental care persist, as a recent survey notes 75% of Americans report having encountered barriers to accessing care.
A survey commissioned by DentaQuest and conducted by KRC Research asked 2,300 Americans—including dentists, physicians, patients, employee benefits administrators, and Medicaid administrators—about the problems surrounding US oral health care. The report, “Reversible Decay: Oral Health Is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve,” notes that more than half of patients (51%) are concerned about their oral health, making it the top health concern over heart, eye, digestive, mental, and skin health. But accessing dental care is difficult, with three in four Americans (75%) stating they have encountered barriers to care. Among the respondents, 52% cited cost, and 31% listed lack of insurance as the main roadblocks to receiving dental treatment.
Of those polled, 70% of patients said oral health care is “expensive.” Aside from the cost barrier, 32% characterized dental care as “scary;” 28% described it as “confusing;” 27% said it is “inconvenient;’” and 9% of respondents confessed they are uncertain about how often preventive oral health visits are needed.
Oral health professionals are ideally positioned to offer tips on quelling dental anxiety, establish open lines of communication, and encourage patients to take responsibility for their health and make behavioral changes through motivational interviewing techniques.
“Only 49% of patients see the connection between oral health and heart disease, and 41% see the connection with diabetes. This shows the clear need for patient education about the impact oral health has on one’s overall health, and the importance of preventive care,” says Alison Corcoran, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for DentaQuest.
Despite the clear connection between oral health, certain diseases, and quality of life, America’s health care system remains stagnant. Patients and health care professionals believe the US oral health system is failing Americans, and do not expect any positive changes over the next five years. The report offers five solutions to address these challenges: prevention, medical-integration, expanded access, comprehensive adult benefits, and value-based care.
“Preventive care is one of the most effective ways to improve or maintain health and drive down costs. Without the systems in place to support this proactive and preventive approach, it’s challenging to change behavior,” says Corcoran. “More straightforward solutions—such as expanding access to care in nontraditional settings and investing in technologies that make it easier for all Americans to receive oral care—are ways to put a preventive model first.
Both patients and dentists see value in expanding dental care outside of traditional dental offices, including primary care offices (72%), community health centers (75%), schools (68%), and community centers (69%). In addition, 93% of dentists, 86% of physicians, and 82% of employers said greater interprofessional collaboration between medical and dental providers would improve patient care.
Among the respondents, 99% of dentists agree that providing preventive screenings, fluoride treatment, radiographs, oral prophylaxis, and exams to patients in nontraditional care locations will help improve overall health, while also reducing costs. When asked which innovative practices may be effective for overcoming barriers to care, dentists supported school-based dentistry (68%), collaborative care teams (64%), and wraparound services—such as transportation or child care (46%).
Last year, several states took steps to make it easier for patients to access dental care with the passage of legislation pertaining to dental therapy. Many states are currently exploring a dental therapy model of care, while several introduced dental therapy legislation in 2019.
“These ideas are not new. At DentaQuest, we’ve recognized these problems and have been working to raise awareness about the need to transform the system from the inside out for some time,” says Corcoran. “The survey confirms much of what we believe—and it is satisfying to see there is strong agreement regarding both the obstacles and solutions. The system is in a state of decay, but it’s reversible. These findings indicate that working together, we really can improve the oral health of all.”