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Elderly Pay More out of Pocket for Dental Services Than Any Other Age Group

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Press Release Date: April 28, 2004

While Americans paid out of pocket for approximately one-half of all dental care expenses in 2000, people age 65 and older paid more than three-quarters (an average of $400) of their dental expenses out of pocket, according to new trend data on dental services from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). Only 10.5 percent of the elderly didn't pay any out-of-pocket expenses for dental care.

Other dental statistics from MEPS:

  • During the period 1996 through 2000, about 42 percent of the U.S. population received dental care at least once each year from a dentist, dental technician, dental hygienist, dental surgeon, orthodontist, endodontist or periodontist.
  • For people who had a dental visit in 2000, average dental expenses totaled $480, an increase of about 28 percent over the average expense in 1996.
  • Compared with all other age groups, children ages 6-18 were most likely to use dental services and had the highest total annual dental expenses. In 2000, that amount averaged $607 per child.
  • In each year from 1996 through 2000, blacks and Hispanics were much less likely to have a dental visit than were whites. In 2000, 26.8 percent of blacks and 25.7 percent of Hispanics had a dental visit, as compared with 46.7 percent of whites.
  • In every year from 1996 through 2000, women were more likely to use dental services than men. In 2000, 44.9 percent of women had at least one dental visit, compared with 38.2 percent of men.
  • In 2000, average out-of-pocket expenses for people with at least one dental visit were highest in the Northeast and lowest in the Midwest. However, between 1996 and 2000, people in the South, Midwest and West experienced a substantial increase in their average out-of-pocket dental expenses (from $139 to $204 in the Midwest, $194 to $240 in the West, $202 to $245 in the South, and $247 to $261 in the Northeast).

MEPS collects information each year from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households on health care use, expenses, access, health status, and quality. MEPS is a unique government survey because only MEPS provides the ability to link data on medical care use, payments, and health insurance coverage with data on demographics and socioeconomic status. Details are in MEPS Research Findings #20: Dental Services: Use, Expenses, and Sources of Payment, 1996-2000, found on the MEPS Web site at

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: (301) 427-1858 or (301) 427-1855 .


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