Poll finds those with dental insurance are more likely to visit the dentist, and insurance often depends on income

Nearly 60 percent of Kentucky adults saw a dentist in the past year, but 26 percent said they delayed dental care because it cost too much, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

“Good dental health is about more than an attractive smile; taking care of your teeth and gums and seeing a dentist regularly can help prevent a whole host of diseases that affect the entire body,” Dr. Laura Hancock Jones, a Morganfield dentist, said in a news release from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a co-sponsor of the poll.

Jones, a member of the foundation’s Community Advisory Council, also said, “Health policies that make comprehensive dental care affordable and otherwise improve access are critical to improving overall health in Kentucky.”

The poll, taken Aug. 26 through Oct. 21, also found that people with higher incomes were more likely to have dental insurance, and those with dental insurance were more likely to have visited a dentist.

Of the 60 percent of Kentucky adults who reported having dental insurance, the poll found that 73 percent had household incomes greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level; 55 percent had an income between 138 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level; and 41 percent had an income less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

It may be interesting to see what happens in next year’s poll, after Kentucky moves to its new Medicaid plan on April 1. Right now everyone on Medicaid who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has access to dental care, but after April 1 everyone except children and those on Medicaid who are not part of the new plan will be required to accrue “virtual dollars” to use for dental-care benefits by completing certain qualifying activities.

While the poll found that fewer Kentucky adults who saw a dentist had dental insurance in 2018 than in 2012, the last time the poll asked this question, the conclusion remains the same — people who have dental insurance are more likely to go to the dentist.

In 2018, 73 percent of the adults who had gone to the dentist reported they had dental insurance, compared to 27 percent who did not. In 2012, those numbers were 63 percent and 36 percent respectively.

Some good news is that the number of Kentucky adults who delayed or skipped dental care because of cost has dropped over the years, to 26 percent in 2018 from 37 percent in 2012 and 43 percent in 2009.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, pointed out that this is another example of how insurance coverage, which is known to improve overall health outcomes, is often not accessible to those with lower level incomes.

“This KHIP report shows that the people who can least afford dental screenings and other preventive care, let alone treatment for gum disease and other oral health issues, are also the least likely to have insurance to help cover the cost of that care,” Chandler said in the release.

The poll is co-sponsored by Interact for Health, a Cincinnati area foundation. It surveyed a random sample of 1,569 adults via landline and cell phone. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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