Cash-Strapped Americans Delaying Dental Care

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More than one in three American adults (36 percent) has delayed or will delay dental care due to the uncertain US economy and their lingering fears about their current financial situation, and they are making that decision despite understanding the long-term implications: more than 80 percent indicated that they knew that delaying dental care would cost them more in the long run. The survey of more than 1,000 adults was conducted by ORC International and commissioned by Aspen Dental.

Other key survey findings hint at why dental care may be out of reach: Approximately one in three respondents indicate that their take-home pay would be lower this year than in 2012. Forty-four percent say they do not currently have dental insurance, an issue that is even more significant among those with an annual income below $35,000 (61 percent).

"Unfortunately the results of this survey are not surprising. Since the recession began five years ago, the patients who walk through my doors have been increasingly stressed about whether they can afford the care they need," said Dr. Nathan Laughrey, DMD, who owns Aspen Dental practices in Pittsburgh Mills, Butler, and Cranberry, Pa. "Many put it off until they just can't wait any longer, which means that they wait until they're in significant pain or having a dental emergency."

The survey also revealed a disconnect about the impact of oral health on overall health: Only one in 10 agree that routine dental visits for regular examinations and cleanings are "critical" to their overall well-being. Even in an emergency situation, only 57 percent of adults felt that going to the dentist to assess the situation was critical.

"It's a stark reminder of the need to improve understanding about the importance of dental care to patients' overall health as well as create better understanding about the long-term effects of ignoring dental visits, including the link between gum disease and serious health conditions like diabetes and stroke," Dr. Laughrey added.

The survey results are consistent with recent research showing a decline in healthcare spending. According to an April 2013 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the slowdown in healthcare spending has been driven by the broader economic downturn.