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Factors beyond private dental insurance coverage influence a person's use of dental care

People with private dental coverage are more likely to visit a dentist, have a greater number of visits, and have higher dental expenditures than those without coverage. However, private dental insurance coverage is not the only determinant of dental care use. Other factors play key roles and should be considered in programs to improve use of dental care and control related expenses, suggests Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., M.B.A., Senior-Scholar-in-Residence in the Center for Cost and Financing Studies, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Dr. Manski and his colleagues at the University of Maryland Dental School and AHRQ used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of the U.S. civilian community-based population during 1996 to examine dental coverage, dental visits, and related expenditures.

Overall, 51 percent of people surveyed had private dental coverage in 1996. Fifty-seven percent of those who had coverage compared with 29 percent of those who did not reported at least one dental visit during the year. Among those with at least one visit, people with coverage reported a higher number of visits per year (2.65 vs. 2.42) and higher mean dental expenditures ($417.20 vs. $298.70) than those without coverage. However, key demographic and socioeconomic variables were associated with dental care use, independent of private dental insurance coverage.

For example, people at a low income level made fewer visits to the dentist and had lower expenditures than people at a high income level, regardless of insurance coverage, age, sex, race/ethnicity, and other household characteristics. Also, whites had more dental visits and higher expenditures than blacks or Hispanics. Finally, although females had more dental visits than males, there were no differences in expenditures between the two sexes. Age-specific and rural- or urban-specific associations were more complex.

More details are in "Private dental coverage: Who has it and how does it influence dental visits and expenditures?" by Dr. Manski, Mark D. Macek, D.D.S., Dr.P.H., and John F. Moeller, Ph.D., in the November 2002 Journal of the American Dental Association 133, pp. 1551-1559.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 03-R008) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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