Trend: Large dental care access gap emerging

With dental fees going up, and huge numbers of consumers lacking dental insurance, adequate dental care is beginning to be out of reach for many lower-middle-class and poor families--and a strain for all but the wealthy. With U.S. population growth hitting 22 percent since 1990, while population of dentists remaining stable at about 150,000 to 160,000 in the U.S., rising fees are little surprise. What's notable, however, is that such fees are rising faster than inflation, putting dentists in the ranks of top earners across the medical profession.

Compounding the problem is that many private dentists don't accept Medicaid patients, leaving such patients to public clinics with months-long waits even for patients needing major dental surgery. Industry critics charge that the dental profession is making things even worse by discouraging efforts to let dental hygienists and other non-dentist provide basic care to the "dentally indigent."

As a result, statistics suggest, a growing number of patients are simply forgoing needed dental care. For example, according to CDC figures from 2003 and 2004, 27 percent of children and 29 percent of adults had untreated cavities. That can lead not only to other medical conditions, but at times, injury or death, as happened recently in Maryland when a child died of a brain abscess resulting from an untreated dental infection.

To find out more about this trend:
- read this piece in The New York Times

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