Inadequate dental care among African Americans in Harlem may be due to unsatisfactory dental coverage, according to a new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the College of Dental Medicine. Researchers already saw a disparity between dental care for African Americans and white Americans, but this study indicates a possible explanation for part of the problem.
An article in Medical News Today explains it further. The study was conducted on the streets of Central Harlem by questioning 118 men and women who had recently dealt with oral health problems.
- About 75% of participants claimed to have some type of dental insurance, but at least 50% of that number is just Medicaid coverage, which is very limited at best. State dental policies fail in 1 in 5 children — 17 million children per year go without dental care in the U.S. (DentaQuest Foundation, Pew Center on the States).
- Of the remaining insured participants, only 21% had private coverage.
- Only 4% had some other type of coverage.
Barriers still exist even for the insured, though: A 2009 Harris Interactive/HealthDay Poll says financial burdens caused more than 50% of uninsured and 30% of insured Americans to skip necessary oral care visits during the year. One study participant indicated that even though he had dental coverage, out-of-pocket costs were still so expensive that he only went to the dentist for emergencies. In other cases, participants felt that even though they had insurance, the quality of care was much lower than if they had better coverage.
Lack of Insurance
The remaining 25% of the study participants had no dental insurance at all. In nearly all of these cases, lack of oral care was almost entirely due to the high cost of dental care. It’s not just a problem in Harlem, or among African Americans. There are over 108 million Americans who do not have dental insurance, according to “Oral Health Update in America: A Report of the Surgeon General.” If we look at that number next to the number of Americans without medical insurance, it is more than 2.5 times as much.
Researchers concluded that providing better access to preventive and basic dental care would use less public funding than the current situation, where people wait until expensive dental emergencies to see a dentist or visit a clinic. They didn’t comment on whether people would actually make use of it and visit the dentist more frequently than they currently do under the proposed circumstances.
In many situations, dental discount plans could be a helpful option. Discount plans are very low cost, and in most cases you’re not limited to a small list of accepted procedures – you can apply it directly to whatever procedure you need. This could be an excellent solution for families and individuals limited by the high cost of dental treatment.