Elizabeth Entenman
October 02, 2015 3:36 pm

Real talk: It’s easy to skip out on the dentist. We know it’s good for us. We know it’s something we need to do. We know our teeth will be squeaky clean and sparkling white afterward. Yet so many people don’t go. Why?

“Access to regular, affordable dental care is important for maintaining good oral health, but gaps in dental care access have long existed,” researchers at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center found. “Though problems were particularly prevalent for uninsured adults, adults with full-year health insurance coverage also reported unmet need for dental care.”

It all comes down to one word: Money. For many Americans, the cost is just too high. Health care access and affordability are real problems we’re facing. Earlier this year, dental care was reported as the most common unmet need among full-year insured adults. So, again: Why?

Overwhelmingly, when pennies are pinched, dental care is the first thing to go. People first prioritize prescription drugs, medical care, doctor or specialist care and medical tests. It’s not that they don’t want dental care — it’s that sometimes, something has to go.

“The level of unmet need for care was surprising,” said Adele Shartzer, a research associate at the center. “We expected that [dental care] would be a little higher than the other services we asked about, but it was even higher than we expected.”

There are other factors that prevent us from going to the doctor too, like difficult insurance benefits, limited access to dentists in underserved and rural areas, and no requirement for plans to offer adults dental coverage. And it’s not a problem that’s limited to low-income adults: 23.8% of adults with family income between 139-399% of the federal poverty level — and 11.4% of adults above 400% — reported unmet need for dental care. What did they cite? Affordability.

And then there’s that perpetual feeling of, I haven’t been to the dentist in a while, and if I do go, I’m afraid of what they’ll find. It’s no wonder dental is the first to get the boot — people just hate going to the dentist. But in reality, not going to the dentist because you hate it is a luxury that many can’t afford.

(Featured image via ShutterStock.)

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