Access to Care
While approximately two-thirds of Americans seek care from a dentist regularly, many of the remaining individuals and families face challenges accessing dental care. These Americans, including racial and ethnic minorities, people with chronic diseases, the frail and elderly, and those whose families are economically disadvantaged, also bear a disproportionate share of dental disease. Access challenges include difficulty getting to a dental office, prioritizing dental care among other health crises and basic needs of living, overcoming financial barriers, and navigating government assistance programs. Fewer people have dental insurance than have medical insurance, and it is often lost when individuals retire. Some may need special financial arrangements or case management services to overcome these obstacles, especially those individuals with physical disabilities and/or mental health challenges. Basic awareness of oral health issues for many Americans may be quite limited because of cultural or language barriers or problems with literacy. Many Americans have a lack of understanding and awareness of the importance of oral health and its essential relationship to their overall health.1
Despite the advances in oral health that have been made over the last century, there is still much work to be done. Access to dental health care is a top priority for the ADA and the basis for its Action for Dental Health. The dental profession has been identifying and addressing access issues for years. The 2008 Medicaid Provider Symposium helped identify the systemic challenges to providing oral health care to Medicaid recipients. The 2010 Medicaid Provider Symposium reviewed business models for maintaining a viable practice, while treating Medicaid patients and prompted the creation of the Medicaid Provider Advisory Committee, which continues to provide technical assistance and consultation to the ADA and its members.
In 2009, the ADA convened representatives from a variety of communities of interest to create a shared vision in order to improve the oral health of underserved populations. The Access to Dental Care Summit affirmed the dental profession's willingness to serve as a convener and collaborator committed to finding common ground and shared solutions to one of the major health problems facing some of the nation's most vulnerable people. The Summit served as a catalyst for many access to care initiatives that followed, including the U.S. National Oral Health Alliance, which provides a platform for a diverse network of stakeholders to forge common ground in order to harness opportunities and create viable solutions for improved oral health through prevention and treatment for vulnerable populations across our country. Through a series of Leadership colloquia, the Alliance generated a set of unifying messages addressing each of the priority areas identified at the 2009 Access to Dental Care Summit.
Related ADA Resources
1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, Rockville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2000.