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Dental Research

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Dental diagnostic and preventive care procedures have increased since 1987

According to the most recent published data, Americans now are more likely to see a dentist to get their teeth examined and cleaned than they are to get them filled or removed. Sixty-five percent of all procedures reported in 1996 were described as either diagnostic (exams and x-rays) or preventive (cleanings, fluoride, and sealants), up from 56 percent in 1987. However, these numbers are lower for poorer, less educated, and black and Hispanic Americans.

These findings are based on a comparison of data from the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey (NMES), both from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These nationally representative surveys collected data on the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States. The study was carried out by researchers in AHRQ's Center for Cost and Financing Studies.

Specific data include:

  • During 1996, approximately 115 million Americans made at least one visit to a dentist, and approximately 422 million dental procedures were performed.
  • Diagnostic procedures increased from 25.9 percent of all procedures in 1987 to 35.2 percent in 1996.
  • The numbers of restorative, prosthetic, surgical, and endodontic procedures (including fillings, crowns, bridges, dentures) all declined between 1987 and 1996.
  • In 1996, black, Hispanic, and poorer respondents reported relatively fewer preventive visits and more oral surgery visits than whites and those with higher income.

For more information, see "Use of dental services: An analysis of visits, procedures, and providers, 1996," by Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., M.B.A., Ph.D., and John F. Moeller, Ph.D., in the February 2002 Journal of the American Dental Association 133(2), 167-175.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 02-R050) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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