Objectives: To explore the issue of affordability in dental care by assessing associations between income, dental insurance, and financial barriers to dental care in Canadian adults.
Methods: Data were collection from a national sample of adults 18 years and over using a telephone interview survey based on random digit dialing. Questions were asked about household income and dental insurance coverage along with three questions concerning cost barriers to accessing dental care. These were: "In the past three years...has the cost of dental care been a financial burden to you?...have you delayed or avoided going to a dentist because of the cost?...have you been unable to have all of the treatment recommended by your dentist because of the cost?"
Results: The survey was completed by 2,027 people, over half of which (56.0%) were covered by private dental insurance and 4.9 percent by public dental programs. The remainder, 39.1 percent, paid for dental care out-of-pocket. Only 19.3 percent of the lowest income group had private coverage compared with 80.5 percent of the highest income group (P < 0.001). Half (48.2%) responded positively to at least one of the three questions concerning cost barriers, and 14.8 percent responded positively to all three. Low income subjects (P < 0.001) and those without dental insurance (P < 0.001) were most likely to report financial barriers to care. While private dental insurance reduced financial barriers to dental care, it did not entirely eliminate it, particularly for those with low incomes. Those reporting such barriers visited the dentist less frequently and had poorer oral health outcomes after controlling for the effects of income and insurance coverage.
Conclusions: Canadian adults report financial barriers to dental care, especially those of low income. These barriers appear to have negative effects with respect to dental visiting and oral health outcomes. For policy, appropriateness will be key, as clarity needs to be established in terms of what constitutes actual need, and thus which dental services can then be considered a public health response to affordability.
© 2011 American Association of Public Health Dentistry.