A recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan School of Business and Families USA found that Americans are more likely to skip routine dental care than any other type of medical appointment due to high costs. Working-age adults were the most vulnerable group, with approximately 13% reporting that they’ve skipped out on dental care for financial reasons.
While 13% might not seem like a large number to most people, it’s actually double the population of seniors and triple the population of children who avoid dental care due to costs. Even for adults with private insurance, cost was a determining factor in not going to the dentist.
Study author Marko Vujicic believes that this is an issue of dental insurance not operating the way it was meant to. “It seems like medical insurance is doing a better job at protecting consumers from financial hardship than dental insurance,” Vujicic explained.
Vujicic went on to explain that private dental insurance includes maximum annual benefit limits, as well as high “coinsurance” rates, which is the patient’s portion of costs on services rendered. He explained that anything beyond routine preventative care is likely an immediate 20-50% coinsurance for patients.
According to a 2013 ADA Health Policy Institute survey, even a simple filling can cost anywhere from $86 to $606. When wisdom tooth extraction — a procedure performed on nearly five million Americans every year — is taken into account, costs can get into the thousands for patients.
Cost is part of what drives hundreds to free dental clinics. One such clinic was held in Phoenix, AZ early in December and saw record numbers of patients. Some people lined up and even spent the night at Maricopa County fairgrounds in the hopes of seeing a dentist at the free clinic.
Over 300 dentists and 1,500 volunteers helped make the event run smoothly this year. In the last four years, this annual event has helped treat approximately 8,000 patients. Organizers report increasing numbers every year, making America’s need for more affordable dental care all the more visible.