Poor Families Spend 10 Times More of Their Income on Dental Care than Wealthier Families

Published 10/09/2010

A report from CareQuest Institute, the first in a three-part series about utilization of dental services and out-of-pocket costs, analyzes oral health needs and financial implications for Americans of different income levels. Based on data from the Medicare Expenditure Panel Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the report finds that those living in poverty and with low incomes use fewer dental services, spend a significant portion of their annual income on dental care and still have substantial unmet dental needs.  

Key findings from the report: 

  • 93% of individuals living in poverty have unmet dental needs, compared with 58% in high-income families.  
  • Only 28% of individuals living in poverty utilized dental services, compared with 55% of high-income families.  
  • As a proportion of annual family income, those in poverty spend ten times more on dental services than do those in high-income families.  

The cost of dental care remains a significant barrier to access in the United States. Expansion of a dental benefit to cover all adults who are enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare would reduce the cost burden and improve oral health for all.  

Read the Additional Research Reports in this Series  

Part 2 of 3 Medicaid Adult Dental Benefits Increase Access and Reduce Out-of-Pocket Expenditures compares the experience of adults enrolled in Medicaid to adults with private coverage and to those who lack coverage.  

Part 3 of 3 The Burden of Out-of-Pocket Expenditures for Dental Care on Medicare-enrolled Elderly and Disabled compares costs associated with different types of Medicare coverage and reveals a high burden of out-of-pocket spending for Medicare enrollees.