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Dental Health

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Having medical, not dental insurance, leads to dental appointments

Traditional thinking links the likelihood of visiting a dentist with a person's having dental insurance. In reality, though, having any form of medical insurance seems to be a factor in the pursuit of dental care, a new study finds.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality researchers Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.B.A., and Philip F. Cooper, Ph.D., used 2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data to examine the link between medical and dental insurance and dental visits. The MEPS is a nationally representative health survey of the U.S. community.

Of the more than 32,000 survey participants in 2003, 43.8 percent of the U.S. population saw a dentist. Women and people from middle- or high-income families were more likely to visit the dentists than men and lower-income families. Visits occurred more often when patients had dental insurance (54.3 percent) or dental and medical coverage (54.5 percent) than when they had only medical coverage (45.9 percent) or no coverage at all (26.9 percent). However, people with public or private medical insurance and no dental coverage (39.9 percent) visited the dentist at least once that year.

Individuals who had medical insurance, but no dental insurance, were more likely to have seen a dentist than those who had neither medical nor dental insurance. The researchers believe this occurred because these people, by nature of having medical insurance, exhibit health-seeking behavior. They suggest that their findings be considered when policymakers contemplate programs to improve access to dental care, because offering dental coverage offers less of an incentive to seek dental care than previously thought.

See "Dental care use: Does dental insurance truly make a difference in the U.S.?" by Drs. Manski and Cooper in the 2007 Community Dental Health 24, pp. 205-212. Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 08-R076) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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