Update: Access to dental care

A coule of days ago, I talked about the link between a potentially massive hepatitis B outbreak in West Virginia and the lack of access to primary dental care. I was mushy qualitatively descriptive, ahem, about the number of people who lack access to dental insurance.

Comes now the CDC to save the day. In a statistical brief posted today, the National Center for Health Statistics gives a concise but thorough overview of the state of dental insurance in the US. Short version: Ain't pretty.

Crude preliminary population math:

  • There are currently 309 million Americans.
  • Based on census tables from last summer, 39 million are 65 or older (i.e., eligible for Medicare).
  • Based on other census tables from last summer, 52 million are 17 or younger (of which some percentage, based on family income, would be eligible for Medicaid).
  • That leaves, with wiggle room, about 218 million working adults.

According to the NCHS:

  • 172 million non-elderly Americans have private health insurance. (NB, leaving 46 million non-elderly with no health insurance, which matches the usually accepted figures.)
  • Of them, 45 million have no dental coverage -- which, added to the 46 million with no insurance at all, means that more than 90 million Americans have no dental coverage at all. (I believe the technical term for a number that large is a crapton. Maybe a metric crapton.)

In addition:

  • If you have employer-provided health insurance, your chances of having dental coverage are pretty good: 80%.
  • If you have privately purchased insurance of any kind, not so much: 30%.

So, reinforcing Monday's point: There are multiple millions of Americans who get no assistance paying for dental care, which is a largely cash-only business. (And judging from my own experience -- thanks to my childhood in the UK, I have teeth like chalk and consume more than my share of dental care -- dental insurance negotiates discounts. So self-pay dental care is relatively more costly.) And therefore, it is not surprising that thousands of people attended that free dental clinic in northeastern West Virginia, and were potentially exposed to hepatitis B as a result.

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Treating "dental care" as something distinct from "health care" is, frankly, stupid. It's another case of foregoing relatively inexpensive preventive care in favor of expensive remedies.

Having a dental health insurance I think is a necessity it prevent from us from paying too costly fees on our dental care, although, it is just a matter of choosing the best insurance coverage.

I totally agree now a days after having dental insurance one is not sure about it..The plans are so worse that you have to pay from your pocket also..I really wonder what is the benefit for it if one had to pay himself in need..I really had a great experience with my insurance..

Anyone care to guess at the #1 cause of bacterial endocarditis?

Treating "dental care" as something distinct from "health care" is, frankly, stupid. It's another case of foregoing relatively inexpensive preventive care in favor of expensive remedies.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 10 Jun 2010 #permalink

Even when you have dental insurance, treatments can still be cost prohibitive so I can't imagine not having it anymore. During grad school I just paid cash for cleanings and x-rays, and mercifully I didn't get any cavities during that period.

Got a job and my own insurance tho and wow teeth decided to give up on me. Not to mention my wisdom teeth which cost 2x my annual limit on the dental insurance. If I didn't have insurance there was no way I could have come up with $3,000. And if I hadn't had them removed it would have just made things worse and worse in the rest of my mouth. Talk about a feedback loop...