More than 64 million people in the United States live in areas with dentist shortages. Access to care is also limited for the 83 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 promoted cost-effective policies to help millions more people get the dental care they need to lead healthy lives. We conducted and commissioned research to define issues, identify solutions, and assess states' responses to dental care challenges. We worked with professionals with extensive expertise in dental health policy at the state and national levels.
Reports, testimony, and other materials by Pew’s dental experts helped to drive policy changes in a number of states.
Pew’s dental campaign worked to close gaps in dental care access by:
- Increasing the number of available providers through the addition of dental therapists, who are midlevel practitioners
- Expanding school-based sealant programs to reach low-income children, who are at the greatest risk for dental decay