In 2010, the CDC published a wide-ranging and ambitious set of goals for improving the health of Americans, called Healthy People 2020. Among the priorities were 33 oral health goals. Recently, the CDC published a midpoint report on their progress. Nearly half of the goals had already been achieved, and progress made on many others.

But on one key point, the US is moving further from its goals: fewer adults are seeing the dentist. In the last five years, the number of people who saw their dentist in the previous year for cleanings and checkups dropped from 44.5% to 42.1%. Why is it so hard to get more adults to see their dentist regularly?

Progress for Children and Seniors

Of the 33 original goals, the CDC reports that 16 have already been met. These goals were mostly focused on children, teens, and seniors, with few markers of progress among working-age adults.

One of the biggest areas of success has been improved access to preventive dentistry for children. For example, the proportion school-based health centers that offered dental sealants increased from 17.1% to 24.4%, and the proportion that offered topical fluoride increased from 20.6% to 33.1%. There was an almost 50% increase in the number of these clinics offering dental care, up to 9.1% from 6.4%. There was significant progress on helping children get dental sealants, most notably among children age 6-9, where 37.6% of children now get sealants, up from 25.5%.

Fewer adults are seeing the dentist

The CDC also reported improvement in outcomes that may be related to preventive dentistry. Fewer children now have decay, with the proportion of children age 3-5 who have cavities dropped from 33.3% to 27.9%. Most importantly, untreated tooth decay dropped off dramatically among this age group, from 23.8% to 11.7%–that’s more than a 50% decline! Significantly more children were getting fillings in the age groups 6-9 and 13-15, too.

Seniors also saw significant progress. Adults age 65-74 with untreated coronal cavities decreased from 17.1% to 14.1%. And complete tooth loss in this age group dropped dramatically, from 24.0% to 12.9%! Progress was also made for root decay, but didn’t reach their goal.

The only goal met for working-age adults was untreated tooth decay among adults, which dropped from 27.8% to 24.9%.

What Keeps People from the Dentist

With all this notable progress for children and seniors, why have working-age adults lagged so far behind. Likely, the key is achieving the one goal that is slipping away. If fewer adults are seeing their dentist for preventive care, they’re likely to experience more tooth decay and more tooth loss. And they’re going to get less restorative dentistry so they’ll have more untreated tooth decay.

So why are so many adults avoiding the dentist? We addressed this question in an earlier blog about the ADA’s report on oral health (which, incidentally, has much higher figures for the proportions of Americans seeing the dentist).

The biggest obstacle is cost, and this is an area where the ACA drove a wedge between children’s and adults’ care. Preventive dental care for children is a required component of healthcare plans under the ACA, but there’s no provision for adult insurance coverage.

Fear of the dentist is also a major concern, cited by about a quarter of people who didn’t see a dentist in the last year. More of these people should consider sedation dentistry to make it easier to get their preventive care.

But the biggest factor is that people don’t prioritize their dental care. Other reasons cited for not going to the dentist, such as inconvenience, trouble finding a dentist, or not perceiving need all basically come down to not prioritizing oral health care. If you realize the importance of oral health, you will take the time to find a dentist and make your dental appointments. You’ll also realize that you do need to see a dentist, even if you don’t have immediate health issues.

It’s Time to Prioritize Your Dental Care

If you haven’t been taking the time and effort to maintain your oral health, it’s time to shift your priorities and focus on getting healthy and staying healthy. Are you looking for a dentist in Rochester, NY, who focuses on the importance of dental care for overall health? Please call (585) 244-3337 today for an appointment with a holistic dentist at Contemporary Dentistry.