WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Adults' dental visits have declined while children's increased during the period between 2000 and 2010, according to new research briefs released by the American Dental Association's Health Policy Resources Center (HPRC). Surprisingly, the trend in reduced adult utilization predates the economic downturn that began in 2007.
The dental utilization gap between high-income and low-income adults grew across the country, while the gap between high-income and low-income children shrank, which the authors of the analysis attribute to greater efforts by states to improve dental coverage for all children.
"The improvement in dental care utilization among low-income children during the past decade – in almost every state – is definitely a cause for celebration," wrote Dr. Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., managing vice president of the HPRC and lead author of the briefs. "Challenges remain, however, and it remains to be seen if the progress is sustained or stalls. Where our analysis ought to raise concern is with the downward trend in dental care utilization among low-income adults."
From 2000 to 2010 dental care utilization among low-income children increased in 47 states. The authors cite such factors as improvements in some states' Medicaid programs, which result in increased dentist participation, the reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and expansion of other the dental safety net programs targeting children.
Only two states – Massachusetts and Virginia – experienced statistically significant increases in utilization for both low-income adults and children.
"It's natural to expect that fewer adults would seek non-emergency dental care in this economic climate," said ADA President Dr. Robert A. Faiella. "But the fact that this trend began prior to the downturn in the economy is disturbing. This should be a wakeup call to anyone who doubts what we have been saying for years: millions of Americans aren't getting the dental care they need, and many are suffering with untreated disease that affects their overall health."
In breaking down the numbers, the HPRC concluded that the percentage of adults who reported going to the dentist in the prior year has been declining since before the economic downturn, dropping from a peak of 41 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2010. Adults in the 35-49 age group experienced the largest decline in utilization, dropping from 43 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2010.
In terms of household income, adult dental care utilization declined across the entire spectrum during the 2000s but was most pronounced among lower income adults. For middle income adults, utilization declined from 38 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2010. Utilization among higher income adults decreased from 54 percent to 51 percent.
"Three things need to happen in order to see real improvements," said Dr. Faiella. "Obviously we need to deliver care now to those already suffering with disease. But merely intervening in disease that has already occurred is a losing battle. Ultimately, people need to be in a continuum of preventive care, and they need the knowledge—oral health literacy—that empowers them to become stewards of their own oral health."
To read the full research briefs, visit http://www.ada.org/1442.aspx
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About the American Dental Association
The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA's consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.
SOURCE American Dental Association