The American Dental Association’s (ADA) Health Policy Institute (HPI) recently released its report on Oral Health and Well-Being in the US, which included a breakdown of the survey results by state. In New York, the disparities are striking: 98% of New Yorkers accept that oral health is important, and 96% of us believe that regular dental visits keep us healthy, but only about 62% of us visit the dentist each year. Why is that?
Why We Value Oral Health
What’s good about the HPI survey is that it doesn’t just accept the notion that we value our oral health. Instead, it looks at some of the reasons why we value our oral health. This includes some of the impacts that poor oral health can have on our lives. This survey asked a couple of overarching questions about the impact of oral health on the quality of life. When asked whether life in general is less satisfying due to the condition of mouth and teeth, 9% said it was very often affected while 20% said it was occasionally affected. Oddly enough, people were more likely to say that the condition of their teeth affected their lives if they were high income (10% vs. 8% for middle and low income), even though high income people were the least likely to report the condition of their teeth as poor (3% vs. 8% for middle income and 12% for low income).
They were also least likely to say that the appearance of their mouth and teeth affects their ability to interview for a job (13% vs. 16% for middle and 19% for low income).
So what is responsible for this higher impact on daily life among high income individuals? They were less likely to avoid smiling (12% of high income said they very often avoid smiling vs. 13% for middle income and 15% for low income),and about the same for embarrassment (10% vs. 7% for middle income and 11% for low income). Instead, it’s pain (12% very often experience pain vs. 6% for middle and 6% for low income), problems sleeping (15% vs. 4% and 4%), difficulty with speech (12% vs. 0% and 0%), and difficulty with usual activities (6% vs. 0% and 0%). For low income people, it seems that difficulty biting and chewing is the most characteristic problem, with 20% of low income adults saying that they very often have the problem, compared to just 8% for middle income, and 10% for high income.
Middle income adults are most likely to reduce social participation because of the condition of their teeth (19% said they very often or occasionally reduce social participation, compared to just 14% for either low or high income individuals).
Thus, although biting and chewing are very important functions, the impact of poor oral health can cut across our entire lives. So it’s no wonder that we value oral health.
What is a wonder is why that value doesn’t translate into dental visits. Fortunately, the survey also looked at these factors.
Why We Aren’t Visiting the Dentist
So, according to the HPI survey, why aren’t New Yorkers visiting the dentist? Here are the top five reasons people haven’t seen a dentist in the last 12 months:
- Cost 48%
- Inconvenient location or time 27%
- Trouble finding a dentist 26%
- No perceived need 25%
- Fear of the dentist 24%
Ironically, the group most likely to cite cost as a reason why they don’t go to the dentist is high income individuals, with 64% citing cost, compared to only 48% for middle income (their most common reason, too) and 37% for low income. This may be partly because dental benefits may take some of the cost burden off for low income individuals. It may also partly be that low income individuals are embarrassed to admit that they can’t afford to go to the dentist.
Another factor may be that the second most common reason high income individuals cite for not going to the dentist is “no perceived need,” with 51% saying they had no need, in contrast to only 3% of low income individuals. Cost has an entirely different scale when you don’t feel like you need dental treatment. Oddly, 46% of high income adults also said they had trouble finding a dentist.
For middle class individuals, inconvenience was the second most common reason cited for not seeing the dentist (29%).
Oddly, low and high income adults had about the same fear of the dentist (38% and 36%), but middle income individuals reported a much lower fear, with only 8% saying that they avoided the dentist out of fear.
Overcome Your Obstacles and Make a Dental Visit
Let us help you get past the obstacles that are keeping you from making your dental visit. If cost is blocking you, we can talk about utilizing insurance, staging treatment, or financing your procedure. We have early morning hours that mean you can get most dental procedures completed without needing to take time off from work, and our location on Clinton Avenue between Elmwood and Westfall is easily accessible. We are currently accepting new patients, so if you haven’t found a dentist you like, we invite you to visit us.
It’s also important to remember that you always need to maintain your oral health. Your oral health is a critical part of your overall health, and that preventive dentistry can help keep you healthy, and can even protect you from costly reconstructive procedures and eliminate the need for emergency dentistry.
And fear is never a good reason to avoid the dentist. Your need for treatment will not go away, it will only intensify. Fortunately, our practice has a very relaxing atmosphere that can help you feel comfortable, and we even offer sedation dentistry to help you overcome serious dental anxiety.