Most estimates show that only about half of all Americans visit the dentist on a regular basis. Despite the best efforts of organized dentistry, we can’t seem to overcome this statistic. Many studies have come up with reasons for the gap in care; Lack of geographic access to a dental office, fear of pain, fear of cost, fear of the unknown, or a combination of more than one of these are offered as problems associated with failure to get proper care. Of late, fear of Covid exposure has even played a part.
The interesting thing is that the 50% statistic applies even to those with dental insurance. And upper income people are only slightly better at visiting than lower income. A recent study showed that fear of the cost of treatment was the major reason given by patients. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad, that a large number of people with dental pain wind up in the hospital emergency room. This is a very expensive and inefficient way to provide for dental disease. Most hospitals have no general dentist on staff and no means of providing dental treatment after regular hours.
Often, the patient’s idea of what treatment will cost is not really accurate. In fact, most people can find a way to afford reasonable preventive treatment that will prevent major problems. Combined with proper oral hygiene at home and a healthy diet, dental costs can be kept in check. One of my dental hygienists recently observed that “Dental treatment isn’t expensive, dental neglect is expensive.” Thanks Kathy!
The access to care issue continues to plague us. Dentists graduating today often have debt to repay and desire to stay in urban or suburban locations. This makes rural offices more scarce. The problem isn’t that we have too few dentists, the problem is with distribution mostly in the urban areas.
My advice? Find a local office who will talk to you and address your needs and desires on a personal level. Make sure you understand the treatment options an get to ask all the questions you want. Communication and trust are the foundation for a good dental office experience.