There are many Americans with dental coverage on their health insurance but according to a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, Americans with dental coverage do not always use it to get dental care.  These findings suggest that it may take outreach and education to help people with coverage understand the importance of dental health and seek care.  First author Richard J. Manski, DDS, MBA, PhD, professor and chief of Dental Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and his research team hope that future programs and initiatives will be designed based on their findings.  The results of this study were published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

“You can’t just hand people coverage and say, ‘there, that’s better,’” claims Dr. Manski.  “You need to offer some inducements, some promotional campaign to change people’s attitudes and beliefs.  We hope this starts the process of a new way of thinking about the problem.”

The Study

For this study, the researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study of 2008 to compare data of older Americans with dental coverage and those without coverage to see who was seeking dental care.  The research team also took personal characteristics into consideration such as race, gender, marital status, age, health status, and others.  They found that older Americans who do not normally seek dental care will not necessarily seek it after getting dental coverage.  Policymakers must do more than simply provide coverage to get people to use their coverage and get dental care.


Some of the factors that prevent people from seeking care cannot be changed such as age or gender but other factors such as knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, tastes, and health status can be influenced by outreach.  Education and marketing outreach is the most effective way to influence these factors so that people are more likely to use their coverage.  Other ways to motivate more Americans with dental coverage to seek care include improving the economy and unemployment rate as well as increasing the number of dental care providers with programs designed to encourage people to enter the field.

According to Dr. Manski, this process will not happen overnight, “We need to set long-term goals for such things and understand that dental coverage and use is a long-term issue, so that we don’t get frustrated that rates of use aren’t going up right away.”

Maintaining good dental health is important for a person’s overall health and Dr. Manski believes that this study has implications for other types of health coverage in addition to dental insurance.  “Dentistry and dental coverage is a perfect experimental model for health care,” says Dr. Manski.  “There are lessons to be learned for overall health coverage and use as well.”