More than 48 million people in the United States live in areas with dentist shortages. Access to care is also limited for the 72 million children and adults who rely on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program: Only about one-third of U.S. dentists accept public insurance.
Left untreated, dental health problems can cause pain and tooth loss, impair children’s growth and social development, impede productivity and job opportunities, exacerbate chronic conditions, and complicate detection of oral cancers. And when dental pain becomes too severe to ignore, many people—more than 2 million in 2012—resort to emergency room visits, which provide no treatment for underlying oral health problems but have a high price for patients and taxpayers: $1.6 billion in 2012, with Medicaid’s share totaling $520 million.
Pew’s dental campaign works to close gaps in dental care access by increasing the number of available providers and expanding the reach of preventive services through the use of dental sealant programs in high-need schools. Research shows that such programs are a valuable, cost-effective way to treat the children most at risk of tooth decay
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Dental therapists—midlevel providers similar to physician assistants in medicine—deliver preventive and routine restorative care, such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns, and extracting badly diseased or loose teeth. As states grapple with provider shortages, especially to serve vulnerable populations, a handful have acted to allow dentists to hire these practitioners, and many others... Read More
U.S. seniors are keeping their teeth longer than they did in the past, yet many are unable to access preventive dental care or treatment to keep their mouths healthy. Senior citizens—those 65 and older—made up 15 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, and their share of the population is expected to nearly double by 2060. As the number of older Americans increases in the coming... Read More
The Indian Health Service (IHS), which oversees all federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native communities, proposed in June to expand the use of dental health aide therapists (DHATs) in tribal settings to increase access to care among Native Americans across the country. Read More
Working With Midlevel Providers
Dentists share their perspectives on these practitioners.