Dental Insurance: Options for the Uninsured

If you do not have dental insurance, you are not alone. A quick glance at some of the statistics reveals that the lack of dental insurance coverage is a nationwide problem.

  • More than 108 million children and adults in the U.S. do not have dental insurance; this is two times the number of children without medical insurance.
  • Dental caries (tooth decay) is the most chronic childhood disease - five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
  • 75% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease.
  • Approximately 3 to 4 million American children suffer from dental pain that interferes with normal daily function.
  • Nearly 50% of America's second graders have had cavities.
  • It has been estimated that more than 32 million children in the U.S. are not receiving regular dental check-ups.
  • Approximately 35.1% of 2- to 5-year-old children in the U.S. receive dental check-ups.
  • No more than 20% of Americans 75 years of age and over have dental insurance.
  • The lack of access to dental care for older Americans on Medicaid was demonstrated in a grade report by Oral Health America called State of Decay: private dental coverage received a D, the level of adult Medicaid dental coverage received a D+, adult Medicaid reimbursement rates received an F, and the adult dental Medicaid grade overall was a D-.

These statistics illustrate the dismal state of dental care in the United States. To make matters worse, there are too few dental schools and dental professionals, and federal and state funding is insufficient.

Furthermore, there are not enough dentists in rural areas across the U.S. Iowa provides a striking example of this problem: 90 of the 99 counties in Iowa are rural, according to the Institute for America's Future. According to the CDC's National Oral Health Surveillance System, approximately 1,500 dentists and 15 dental clinics served close to 3 million residents in 2004 – this meant that there were 2,000 patients per dentist! Just one dental school and four hygienist schools are available to serve Iowa's dental needs in future years.

The outlook for Iowa is bleak, especially considering that the U.S. Census Bureau Population Division projects that the state’s elderly population will increase 22.6% and become the nation's seventh highest proportion of elderly by 2025.

The state of dental care in Iowa is but one example of a much greater problem nationwide. The need for dental hygienists (who provide professional dental cleaning) is expected to grow by more than 35% between 2000 and 2010. The good news for Iowa is that non-profit and state funding opportunities are available through which residents can receive dental care. In places where this assistance is not available, Americans may need to become more persistent and informed as they seek dental care options on their own.