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Despite Insurance, the Poorest Adults Have the Worst Access to Dental Care

July 28, 2020

Policy Brief

Authors: Nadereh Pourat, PhD, Maria Ditter, Dr.med., MPH

Summary: Oral health is critical for overall health and well-being, yet it is not considered an essential health benefit for adults under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Long-standing income disparities in oral health have been documented and are linked to lower rates of dental insurance and subsequent limited access to oral health care. Authors examined pooled data from the 2017 and 2018 California Health Interview Surveys to assess whether there were income and dental insurance disparities among California adults, and, if so, whether such disparities included access to timely dental care. 

Findings: Low-income California adults were less likely to have had timely dental visits, more likely to have had visits for dental problems, and less likely to have had private dental insurance than their higher-income counterparts. Authors also found that dental insurance alleviated some, but not all, income disparities in access. These findings highlight the importance of considering dental health as an essential health benefit and of ensuring parity in dental benefits, among other potential policy solutions for reducing disparities in dental coverage and access.

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