Millions of Americans Lack Access to Dental Care, Report Finds
There are "[p]ersistent and systemic" barriers that prevent tens of millions of U.S. residents from accessing necessary dental care, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, HealthDay reports.
Experts note that lack of dental care can negatively impact overall health. Poor oral health often is linked to heightened risk for conditions including respiratory illnesses, heart disease and diabetes, and increased use of emergency services (HealthDay, 7/13).
Children, elderly residents, minorities and individuals living in rural and low-income areas are most likely to experience issues with accessing dental care, the report noted.
The report also found that:
- 33.3 million people reside in areas without enough dental health professionals to meet the population's needs;
- 4.6 million children did not get dental care in 2008 because their families could not afford it; and
- Just 38% of retirees in 2006 had dental coverage.
IOM drafted recommendations on improving access to dental care, including:
- Increasing Medicare and Children's Health Insurance Program reimbursement rates for dentists;
- Investigating ways to expand Medicaid dental coverage for adults; and
- Recruiting more dental students to serve low-income and rural areas.
Views Differ on Allowing Dental Hygienists, Others To Provide Care
The report also suggested urging states to change their laws to permit dental hygienists, assistants and other professionals to treat more patients. Current state laws vary in terms of which procedures dental hygienists and assistants can perform. IOM says that restrictive laws may result in states missing "critical opportunities to serve greater numbers of individuals in need of care" in areas with limited dental health care providers (Gold, Kaiser Health News/Los Angeles Times, 7/13).
The American Dental Association praised the report's focus on expanding access to oral health care. However, ADA has cautioned against allowing non-dentists to perform many dental services (Hobson, "Health Blog," Wall Street Journal, 7/13).
The federal health reform law includes a $60 million program to expand the services that dental hygienists and aides can provide in rural areas, including extracting teeth and filling cavities. The program has not yet been funded (Kaiser Health News/Los Angeles Times, 7/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.