Survey: U.S. Oral Health System is Failing, But Americans Know How to Fix It
Half of patients are concerned about their oral health, making it the top health concern over heart, eye, digestive, mental, and skin health.
3 in 4 Americans face barriers to dental care – chiefly cost and lack of insurance – yet dentists, physicians, and employers agree on solutions to improve the oral health system.
Six in 10 Americans rate oral health as either “fair,” “poor,” or “very poor,” according to independent research commissioned by DentaQuest and conducted by KRC Research. Further, more than half of patients (51%) are concerned about their oral health, making it the top health concern over heart, eye, digestive, mental, and skin health. Yet three in four Americans (75%) say they have encountered barriers to accessing dental care — chiefly cost (52%) and lack of insurance (31%). Despite these challenges, dentists, physicians, and employers agree on solutions to improve the oral health system in the U.S.
The independent survey polled more than 2,300 Americans – including dentists, physicians, patients, employee benefits administrators, and Medicaid dental administrators. The corresponding research report, “Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve,” represents a unique 360-degree view of common concerns and potential solutions for America’s oral health care challenges.
Among the survey’s key findings:
America’s oral health system is failing – and unlikely to improve – despite connection between oral health and overall health.
More than 90% of dentists and physicians – and 79% of patients – recognize a demonstrable connection between oral health and overall health. Despite its key role in overall health, the oral health system is failing Americans and is unlikely to improve.
Patients say oral health care is “expensive” (70%), “scary” (32%), “confusing” (28%), and “inconvenient” (27%). 66% of dentists agree oral health care is too expensive for their patients and one in four dentists, physicians, and employers agree oral health care is confusing. Further, eight in 10 physicians predict that Americans’ oral health will either stay the same or get worse – and two in three dentists, patients, and employers agree.
Most Americans are misinformed or unsure about dental coverage under Medicaid and Medicare.
74% of patients are either unsure if Medicaid includes dental benefits, or believe it does. And 62% are either unsure if Medicare includes dental benefits, or believe it does. Plus, most patients believe Medicare (80%) and Medicaid (78%) should cover dental care. In reality, Medicare does not currently carry dental benefits, and state-based Medicaid programs include benefits to varying degrees, often only for children.
“An estimated 74 million Americans do not have access to oral health care, despite evidence linking oral health to overall health,” said Steve Pollock, president and chief executive officer of DentaQuest. “As a result, many Americans forgo preventive dental care or seek treatment in ill-equipped emergency rooms – both of which contribute to rising overall health costs. But there is cause for optimism: patients, dentists, and physicians agree on what it will take to improve Americans’ oral – and overall – health.”
Key stakeholders agree on solutions to America’s oral health challenges.
Despite the many challenges facing the oral health system, most dentists (93%), physicians (86%), and employers (82%) agree greater collaboration across medical and dental providers would improve patient care. To that end, dentists believe innovative practices can be effective for overcoming patient barriers to care, such as, school-based dentistry (68%), collaborative care teams (64%), and wraparound services like transportation or child care (46%).
Plus, more than four in 10 employers are open to considering innovations in employee benefits. Innovations include providing medical screenings and associated referrals to health professionals and providing convenient access to urgent dental care.
Of note, patients and employers support dental insurance models that emphasize value of care over volume of procedures.
Nearly half of patients (48%) think dental insurance should be based primarily on the impact the procedure will have on overall health, not on the procedures’ total cost. Most employers (87%) agree oral health benefits should prioritize healthy outcomes over volume of services delivered. And more than half of employers (51%) say their organizations would be interested in implementing a value-based care benefit design for dental coverage.
“This research underscores what DentaQuest has known for a long time – that our current oral health system is failing millions of Americans, despite the crucial role it plays in our overall health,” Pollock added. “Fortunately, these survey findings demonstrate clear support from key stakeholders on how to improve the oral health system. At DentaQuest, we recognize the need to revolutionize oral health care by taking a prevention-first approach with value-based care models, improved access, medical-dental integration, and expanded adult benefits.”
DentaQuest, the nation’s leading oral health care organization, commissioned the survey to better understand the beliefs and attitudes of key stakeholders. The findings are based on independent public opinion research conducted by KRC Research through a July 2019 online survey. Access an infographic outlining the key takeaways from the survey here and the complete survey results here.
DentaQuest is a purpose-driven oral health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all. We do this through Preventistry® – our all-in approach to better care, expanded access, value-based financing, and innovative solutions. We manage dental and vision benefits for 27+ million Americans and provide direct patient care through our network of more than 85 oral health centers in 5 states. We provide outcomes-based, cost-effective dental solutions for Medicaid and CHIP, Medicare Advantage, small and large businesses, and individuals nationwide. And, we've invested more than $200 million in grants and programs to achieve measurably healthier communities across the country. By advancing prevention-focused oral health, we will achieve better overall health for everyone. Learn more at www.DentaQuest.com and follow us on social: Twitter @DentaQuest, Facebook www.facebook.com/DentaQuest, Instagram @Inside_DentaQuest, and LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/company/DentaQuest.