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New Research by ADA Health Policy Institute Examines Oral Care Access and Utilization

January 13, 2015 CHICAGO —Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved children’s access to dental services, the situation for adults is getting worse, new research has found. An analysis by the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI) shows no reversal of the past few years’ decline in dental care use by adults, regardless of income or insurance status. This is a result, in part, of both Medicaid policy deprioritizing adult dental care and the ACA omitting adult dental as an essential benefit.

Two new HPI studies look into the causes, effects and solutions to the dental access problem.

This ADA analysis of new nationally representative survey data on access to dental care found that inability to pay for care and lack of perceived need are the top reasons why adults do not intend to visit a dentist in the next 12 months. Other important reasons for not visiting a dentist include lack of time, transportation problems, anxiety and difficulty finding a dental practice that accepts Medicaid.
HPI focused on Maryland’s dental Medicaid program and found that since 2012, per-capita outpatient dental emergency department visits for dental problems have decreased in the state, especially among children and adults ages 21-40. The decrease in outpatient ER visits for dental pain among children is likely attributable to reforms Maryland has instituted in its pediatric Medicaid program since 2007. The authors concluded that an effective statewide emergency department referral program—for both pediatric and adult patients—could save the Maryland Medicaid program up to $4 million per year.
Emphasizing oral health education and developing strategies to get dental patients out of emergency rooms and into dental chairs are just two of the many initiatives of Action for Dental Health (ADH), the ADA’s nationwide, community-based campaign to address the access and utilization problem facing low-income Americans. ADH is comprehensive in its approach and scope and is designed to address the dental health crisis in three distinct areas: providing care now to people who are suffering from untreated disease; strengthening the public/private safety net; and bringing dental health education and disease prevention into underserved communities.

About the ADA

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 159,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit ADA.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA's consumer website MouthHealthy.org