Fewer Dental Visits a Problem
I can count my Mexican patients on my fingers…No, they all come from Austin, Houston, even Florida, Colorado, Alaska…
– Dr. Jessica Nitardy of Rio Grande Dental in Juarez, Mexico (The Atlantic)
Fewer Americans have insurance coverage for dental care. Meanwhile, dental care costs are rising. As a result, Americans don’t go to the dentist as much as they used to, while some cross the border to get dental work done.
Less Coverage, Higher Costs, Fewer Visits
Annual trips to the dentist are important for overall health, yet surveys show that most Americans don’t go to the dentist every year.
Gallup has conducted polls on the issue as part of overall health studies for years. Between 2008 and 2013, Gallup reported that only about 65 percent of respondents had been to the dentist in the previous 12 months.
And we’re not talking about visits for major dental work – we’re talking about routine cleaning and checkups. Yet Americans aren’t going.
It’s likely that many people don’t realize how oral health can affect overall health. Arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, stroke – poor oral health can be a contributing factor in all of these conditions.
However, even if everyone did understand the correlation between oral health and overall health, they still might not go. A lot of people don’t see the value of dental work until their teeth start to hurt, while others just can’t afford to go.
While using words like crisis is an invitation to criticism, the fact is we might be in an era of crisis in regards to oral health in the United States.
A study by Kaiser a few years ago revealed that many Americans don’t have dental insurance and either can’t afford or choose not to pay the out-of-pocket costs. Even people covered by Medicaid find it hard to get dental care because many dental offices don’t accept Medicaid (low profit margins).
According to Kaiser research, some 19 million American children lacked dental coverage in 2009, which is about twice the number without health insurance that year.
One in four children have untreated tooth decay, now the most common chronic illness among school-aged children. Adults fare no better. And one in four Medicare beneficiaries are missing all of their natural teeth — a problem that threatens not only among the elderly, but also the very poor.
Low-income families and racial and ethnic minorities tend to be disproportionately affected because they tend to lack access to care, according to Kaiser.
My Dentist Is in Juarez, Mexico
It’s no wonder why some people living in the Border States are crossing over to Mexico to get far cheaper dental care.
An estimated 42 percent of Americans don’t have dental insurance. More than a quarter of people with employer-provided insurance don’t receive dental benefits, only 16 states provide dental benefits through Medicaid, and most Obamacare subscribers didn’t sign up for a separate dental plan. More than a third of Americans didn’t see the dentist last year, and those living in poverty were more likely to skip visits.
Even with insurance, procedures like implants and crowns can cost thousands, and plans don’t always cover the most modern coatings and materials.
In a 2008 survey of Texas border residents, 49 percent said they had bought prescription drugs in Mexico, 41 percent said they had visited the dentist there, and 37.3 percent said they had journeyed across the border for medical care.
At Rio Grande Dental in Juarez, you can get a dental implant for $599 instead of the $1,500 or so it’ll cost in the U.S. or Canada. You can get a ceramic implant for the same price, even though it’ll cost you about $3,800 in the U.S. or Canada.
Dr. Nitardy grew up in Mexico but now lives in El Paso, Texas, with her husband, an eye doctor who practices north of the border.
Yet Nitardy has kept her practice in Mexico. She told the Atlantic that she doesn’t see the point in moving it north because she’d have to go back to dental school in the U.S. but also, in general, American healthcare is “too pricey.”
Fewer Visits, More Health Issues
Without coverage for dental care, Americans are less motivated to go to the dentist. With rising costs, many prioritize other things above dental work (until something hurts), while others simply can’t afford it. Together, that adds up to fewer dental visits.
The problem with fewer visits is a bigger one than straight, white teeth. Poor oral health can lead to more serious overall health issues. And that is a concern for our entire healthcare system.