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Barriers to dental health for Americans

From lack of coverage to unemployment, here are 3 barriers to dental health for Americans.

It’s no secret that paying for dental care can be expensive without insurance coverage.

Without insurance, paying for routine services like a cleaning, filling a cavity, or an X-ray out-of-pocket can quickly add up. And paying for dental care can be even harder for the millions of Americans living in poverty. 

As of 2015, 13.5% of Americans are living in poverty. And poverty is particularly bad news for oral health, as adults with incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) are 3 times more likely to have untreated cavities.

One of the most common dental issues faced by Americans is not being able to access routine preventative care that can help curb issues before they become more serious — and cost more money to treat.

Even for Americans who have dental insurance, covering out-of-pocket costs like premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance can be a challenge.

But Americans face more barriers to good dental health than just paying for out-of-pocket costs. Access to quality care and barriers to employment also contribute to dental health issues for Americans.

And lack of access to preventive dental care can lead to more serious physical and mental health problems that are even more expensive to treat.

From lack of coverage to unemployment, here are 3 barriers to dental health for Americans.

Lack of coverage

Preventive care is one of the most powerful ways to curb dental issues while they’re still small (and less expensive to treat). Regular cleanings help dentists spot cavities or gum infections before they become worse and need serious treatment. 

Americans with dental coverage are more likely to go to the dentist, take their kids to the dentist, receive restorative care and experience greater overall health. But 74 million Americans had no dental coverage at the end 2016.

A big issue that Americans face in receiving dental care is lack of coverage by government-funded health care programs like Medicaid.

Under the ACA, 28 state Medicaid health plans were expanded in 2018. But this new health coverage doesn’t necessarily include more dental health coverage.

Because the ACA doesn’t identify dental care as an “essential health benefit,” states have been given the power to regulate Medicaid dental coverage for recipients. But for many states, Medicaid dental benefits only include “emergency or limited benefits.” 

Although the dental benefits provided by Medicaid vary, treatment coverage for most states is only provided for serious injuries or tooth extractions. This leaves many Americans without access to quality dental care.

More chronic health issues

The lack of dental insurance coverage suffered by some Americans does more than make dental care even more difficult to afford.

Americans without dental benefits report higher incidences of other chronic health issues, as oral health is closely tied to overall health. 

According to the National Association of Dental Plans, Americans without dental coverage are:

  • 67% more likely to have heart disease.
  • 50% more likely to have osteoporosis.
  • 29% more likely to have diabetes.

Without dental insurance, Americans are also more likely to need tooth extractions or dentures, which are not cheap out-of-pocket expenses. 

Not only is tooth loss expensive, but missing or broken teeth can make it difficult to eat, chew or talk. These extra challenges can lead to lack of nutrition, chronic pain, which makes it difficult to sleep or work, and lack of confidence in social or professional settings.

Employment barriers

When it comes to landing a new job, confidence and presentation during the interview are keys to success. But for Americans with dental health issues, showing up to an interview with a bright, confident smile can be difficult.

Unemployed adults may look to find a job that provides quality dental health benefits for themselves and their families (at least 50% of companies offer dental benefits).

But this same population’s lack of oral care can lead to discrimination by potential employers due to missing teeth or other dental issues.

46% of recruiters say a candidate’s appearance influences their hiring decision during interviews. And 41% of recruiters say they judge the appearance of candidates before they’ve even met through photos on LinkedIn or other hiring and social sites.

Focus groups in Massachusetts found that nearly all the recipients of state Medicaid who had untreated dental issues suffered from low self-esteem.

Lack of self-esteem can make it even harder for unemployed adults to approach new job opportunities with confidence and motivation, which could make them miss out on landing a job that provides dental benefits.

An individual dental plan that can fit any American’s budget and coverage needs may be the key to ensuring good oral health for themselves and their families. 

But beyond individual plans and Medicaid, there are other ways American adults may be able to find the dental coverage they need.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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