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Dental spending remains flat-lined

HPRC research shows little change between 2011 and 2012

January 20, 2014

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

People spent about the same amount of money on their dental care in 2012 as they did in 2011, perpetuating a trend that began before the Great Recession.

In 2012, national dental spending was $111 billion, roughly the same as in 2011, according to the research brief "U.S. Dental Spending Remains Flat Through 2012," published by the ADA Health Policy Resources Center. The brief is based on new data released by the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services.

In 2012, dental expenditures accounted for 4 percent of overall national health expenditures, down from a peak of 4.5 percent in 2000. HPRC authors Thomas Wall, Kamyar Nasseh, Ph.D., and Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., noted in their research that overall spending over the past four years has grown at the slowest rates ever recorded in the history of the National Expenditure Accounts. But the slowdown in dental spending has been much more pronounced.

"Given our analysis covers three years of post-recession data, it suggests strongly that structural changes are occurring in the dental economy and the slowdown is not simply a cyclical effect," the authors wrote. "These structural changes are rooted in a shift in dental care utilization patterns, namely reduced dental care use among working age adults."

Other factors include improvements in oral health among most segments of the U.S. population; the decline in the percentage of individuals with private dental benefits; the erosion of adult dental benefits provided by state Medicaid programs; and fee reductions among many private insurers in recent years.

Looking at different data that focuses on patients, there was also little change in the most recent data released—the 2011 information from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Adjusting for inflation, average per-patient dental expenditures remain stable and continue to be highest among the elderly ages 65 and older.

But even with people over 65 spending more on their dental care—and the impending influx of baby boomers entering that age bracket, the dental economy may not shift, HPRC says.

"Recent projections of dental spending through 2040 suggest that while the aging of the population may act to increase total dental expenditure, downward trends in dental spending among younger age groups may counteract this effect, particularly as the baby boomer generation phases out," Mr. Wall and Drs. Nasseh and Vujicic wrote. "As a result, despite the anticipated increase in dental expenditures among older adults, growth in total dental spending is expected to be sluggish in the near future, with a 'new normal' emerging."