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Dental Research

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Higher income and coverage for dental care increase use of dental services among older adults

Nearly one-third of the U.S. population (77 million people) will be approaching retirement age by 2010, and many of these baby boomers will lose employer-sponsored dental insurance. According to findings from a recent study, lower income and lack of coverage for dental care are associated with reduced use of dental services among older adults, including those in minority populations. This trend will likely extend into retirement years because the prospect of having enough disposable income to pay for dental care will remain low, explains Richard J. Manski, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.B.A., of the Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry.

Dr. Manski and his colleagues examined the effects of age, income, and insurance coverage on dental care use during 1996 using data from the 1996 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Overall, 34 percent of adults 55 and older had private dental coverage during 1996, and 43 percent reported a dental visit during that year. People in older age groups (aged 65 to 74 years and 75 years and older) were less likely to have dental coverage than those aged 55 to 64 years. Poor, low-income, and middle-income older adults were less likely to have dental coverage than wealthier older adults. Although Hispanics in this study were less likely to have coverage than other groups, older blacks were no less likely than whites to have coverage.

People in the oldest age group (age 75 or older) were less likely to have a dental visit than individuals in either the middle (age 65-74) or youngest (age 55-64) age groups (32.2 percent, 46.9 percent, and 46.8 percent, respectively). About one-quarter of poor adults reported a dental visit during the year, compared with more than half of those in the high income group. Not surprisingly, those who had dental coverage were more likely than those who did not to report a dental visit during the year. When the researchers controlled for income, age, and coverage, older Hispanics and blacks were less likely to have reported a dental visit than whites.

See "Dental insurance visits and expenditures among older adults," by Dr. Manski, Harold S. Goodman, D.M.D., M.P.H., Britt C. Reid, D.D.S., Ph.D., and Mark D. Macek, D.D.S., Dr.Ph., in the May 2004  American Journal of Public Health 94(5), pp. 759-764.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 04-R046) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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