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ADA News Convention Daily

Missing adult patients? You're not the only one

October 20, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Ready for the research: From left, Drs. Natalia Chalmers, Jaana Gold and Donna Jones smile before Thursday's course, which discussed trends that affect the dental care market on a national, "big picture" scale. Photos by EZ Event Photography
If you're a dentist who has noticed fewer working-age adult patients in your office, you're not the only one.

According to data discussed at a course Thursday, the percentage of adults 19-64 who saw a dentist in the past 12 months was only 36 percent, compared with 43.7 percent of seniors and 48.5 percent of children.

This and other data were presented at The Shifting Health Care Landscape and Your Practice, a half-hour campfire session, or small and informal group discussion, on the Exhibit Hall floor.

Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., ADA chief economist and vice president of the Health Policy Institute, led the session.  The session will be repeated today from 12:15-12:45 in the Exhibit Hall at Booth 1305 in the ADA Council Theater.

State of the dental union: Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., ADA chief economist and vice president of the Health Policy Institute, discusses fewer adults visiting the dentist during The Shifting Health Care Landscape and Your Practice Thursday.
Dr. Vujicic discussed trends affecting the dental care market on a national "big picture" scale, he said.

He said that public spending has become a bigger share of the dental economy in recent years, while out-of-pocket spending has not seen growth. In the last few years, he said there has been an uptick in adults with coverage — more and more Americans overall are "finding themselves with coverage," Dr. Vujicic said.

More children and seniors are visiting dental offices, Dr. Vujicic said, but working adults, especially those 19-35 years old, have visited the dental office less and less since 2007.

Dr. Vujicic said this was "a puzzle to him," but said the Health Policy Institute looked at reasons why adults don't go the dentist, and discovered cost, being fearful of the dental office and inconvenience to be the top three reasons.

On the supply side, Dr. Vujicic said dentists are retiring later while dental school graduate volumes are increasing. He also noted that practice ownership is declining among dentists, and that collaboration with other dentists and also primary care providers could be important going forward.

For Dr. Peter Patsavas, of Illinois, who attended the session, the data came as little surprise, he said.

He said he's noticed the decline of the working-age population patients in his office.

"It's interesting to see that it's happening across the country," he said.

For more information about the ADA Health Policy Institute, visit