e-mail Print Share

ADA chief economist examines consumer spending in JADA

March 02, 2015

By Kelly Soderlund

Photo of Dr. Vujicic
Dr. Vujicic
Americans are spending more money on vacations, cell phones and alcoholic beverages but not on their dental care.

That's the conclusion of Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute, in "Of Lawyers, Lattes and Dentists," a column he wrote for the March 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Dr. Vujicic based his conclusion not only on HPI research and data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis but on the anecdotal stories provided by the practicing dentists he's met across the country.

"Results from numerous Health Policy Institute studies show that dental spending has been sluggish for several years, that adults are going to the dentist less — a trend unrelated to the recent economic downturn — and that a substantial share of U.S. adults report they delay getting dental care because it is too costly," Dr. Vujicic wrote in his column. "When I ask dentists whether they are seeing these trends in their practices, most say yes. And then, with surprising frequency, the conversations spontaneously turn to lattes, tattoos and cell phones — namely, dentists tell me time and again that it is not that dental care is becoming 'too expensive' but rather that patient priorities are changing."

According to data Dr. Vujicic looked at from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, household spending on dental care and many other items decreased during the Great Recession. But since the recession ended, spending on cell phones and package vacation tours has been growing by about 10 percent per year and spending on alcohol has been increasing at 5 percent annually, Dr. Vujicic wrote. Household spending continues to contract for only three items: legal services, coffee and tea and dental care.

While there are several reasons household spending on dental care could be declining, Dr. Vujicic argues that the data suggests strongly that the value proposition of dental care could be changing among U.S. adults. HPI is doing further research in this area.

To read the full column, visit jada.ada.org. To watch a video of Dr. Vujicic explaining his column, visit ADA.org.