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Dental spending remains stagnant

February 15, 2016

By Kelly Soderlund

Graphic of National dental expenditures

Dental spending continued to be flat between 2013 and 2014, a trend that’s continued since 2008 and an indication that the dental economy has not rebounded since the Great Recession, according to the ADA Health Policy Institute.

National dental care expenditures were $113.5 billion in 2014, somewhat up from $112 billion in 2013 (in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars) but roughly considered the same level, according to “U.S. Dental Spending Continues to Be Flat,” a research brief authored by Thomas Wall, manager of statistical research, and Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the Health Policy Institute. In 2014, dental expenditures accounted for 3.7 percent of overall national health expenditures, down from a peak of 4.5 percent in 2000 but roughly the same level as in recent years, the authors wrote.

“One of the key drivers of the slowdown was a decrease in dental care use among working age adults,” Mr. Wall and Dr. Vujicic wrote. “Given that dental care utilization patterns play a big role in that trajectory of dental spending, it is important to note that in 2013, for the first time since 2007, dental care utilization did not decline among working age adults. Utilization also continued to increase among children.”

What has changed over the years is who is financing dental expenditures. Since 1990, there has been an increase in the share of dental expenditures financed by public sources — from 2 percent in 1990 to 11 percent in 2014 — and a decrease in out-of-pocket spending.

The share of dental spending financed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could be as a result of increased dental care utilization among Medicaid children and more Medicaid adults accessing dental care because the program expanded within states that offer optional adult dental benefits, according to the brief.

The same shift away from out-of-pocket financing toward public financing also occurred for overall health spending, according to HPI. But dental expenditures are still overwhelmingly paid for by private insurance and out-of-pocket spending, a different mix than for overall health expenditures.

To read the full brief, visit ADA.org/researchbriefs.