e-mail Print Share

Groundbreaking HPI report details state of oral health in U.S.

June 08, 2016

By Jennifer Garvin

Low-income adults are 10 times more likely to rate the overall condition of their mouths as "poor," and a third of American adults consider their oral health "fair or poor," according to a new report from the ADA Health Policy Institute.

HPI on June 8 released the report, "Oral Health & Well-being in the United States." It contains survey results from nearly 15,000 U.S. adults from every state and the District of Columbia who were asked about their attitudes toward the importance and value of good oral health.

HPI says the state-by-state report is the "first-of-its-kind" to show how seriously oral health issues impact the lives of U.S. adults. The statistics show that low-income adults are 10 times more likely to rate the overall condition of their mouth and teeth as "poor" versus high-income adults, and low-income adults are also nearly twice as likely to have the appearance of their teeth impact their ability to interview for a job, and are twice as likely to have problems biting or chewing.

"Policymakers now have robust empirical data linking oral health — a long overlooked aspect of health care policy — to physical, social and economic well-being," said Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., ADA chief economist and HPI vice president. "These numbers need to be a starting point for a national discussion about improving access to oral health care for adults in America."

Other key findings include:
  • Across all income levels, nearly 30 percent said life is "very often" or "occasionally" less satisfying because of the condition of their mouth or teeth.
  • One in four adults said they avoid smiling because of the condition of their mouth or teeth.
  • One in five adults experiences anxiety over the condition of their mouth and teeth.
  • Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said cost is the reason they hadn't visited a dentist in the past 12 months.
"When you see these kinds of problems across all ages and income levels, it becomes clear that we need to re-examine how we finance and deliver oral health care in America," said Rachel Klein, director of organizational strategy for Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers.

In the commentary section of the report, researchers urged policymakers to "reconsider the separation of mouth and body in state and federal health care policy" and also recommend they "explore alternative designs of adult dental benefits in Medicaid and private benefit plans."

"It is time to re-engineer the health care system so that it recognizes the crucial part oral health plays in all of our lives," Dr. Vujicic said. "Put succinctly, it's time to put our money where our mouth is."

"The Oral Health & Well-being in the United States," can be accessed here. The report was also the lead story in Politico’s June 9 Pulse section, which covers health care policy news.