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Dental Health Access Improved in Kentucky, as More Adults Have Insurance, Fewer Delay Coverage

Feb 21, 2019

Oral health is a key component of overall health. Data released today from the 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) show noticeable improvements in oral health care in the Commonwealth—more adults have dental insurance, most have visited a dentist in the past year, and fewer Kentucky adults are delaying dental care due to cost. However, disparities exist for Kentuckians with lower incomes.

KHIP is jointly funded by Interact for Health and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

“For far too long, we’ve considered oral health to be a secondary concern, and that should not be the case,” said O’dell Moreno Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President and CEO of Interact for Health. “As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note in the Healthy People 2020 goals, good oral health improves a person’s ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and make facial expressions to show feelings and emotions. In turn, this can impact a person’s overall health and ability to be productive at school or work.”

More Kentucky adults have dental insurance

KHIP found that 6 in 10 Kentucky adults (60%) reported they had dental insurance of any kind. This is an increase from 2012, the last time KHIP measured this, when 48% of Kentucky adults indicated that they were insured.

However, the survey also found that access to dental insurance varied by income: 41% of Kentucky adults whose household income was 138% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) or less said they had dental coverage, compared to 73% of Kentucky adults earning more than 200% of FPG.

Kentucky adults who visit dentist more likely to have insurance

Overall, about 6 in 10 Kentucky adults (59%) said that they had seen a dentist in the last 12 months, about the same as when KHIP first asked this question in 2012. The most recent national data from the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, conducted by the CDC, shows that 66% of American adults had seen in dentist in the past year.

Visiting a dentist was connected to dental insurance coverage, KHIP found. Of the Kentucky adults who had visited a dentist in the past year, 73% said they had dental insurance compared to 27% who said they did not have coverage.

Fewer delaying care due to cost

If left untreated, many oral health problems can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

KHIP asked adults if, in the last 12 months, they had delayed dental care or did not get care because of cost. Fewer than 3 in 10 Kentucky adults (26%) reported that they had gone without care, a decline from 37% in 2012.

“As our community looks to improve oral health, we must continue to reduce barriers to dental care, including: lack of access to care, lack of awareness about oral health, cost and fear of dental procedures,” said Owens. “At the same time, we need to reduce the incidence of other health behaviors that contribute to poor oral health, including tobacco use and poor nutrition.” 

About the Kentucky Health Issues Poll

The 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll was funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health. It was conducted Aug. 26-Oct. 21, 2018, by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of 1,569 adults from throughout Kentucky was interviewed by telephone. This included 697 landline interviews and 872 interviews with cell phone users. In 95 of 100 cases, the statewide estimates will be accurate to ±2.5%. There are other sources of variation inherent in public opinion studies, such as nonresponse, question wording or context effects that can introduce error or bias. For more information about the Kentucky Health Issues Poll, please visit www.healthy-ky.org or www.interactforhealth.org/about-khip/.

About Interact for Health

Interact for Health is improving the health of all people in our region. We serve as a catalyst by promoting health equity through grants, education, research, policy and engagement. To amplify the impact of our work, Interact for Health focuses on three strategic priorities: reducing tobacco use, addressing the opioid epidemic and ensuring that children have access to health care through school-based health centers. We are an independent foundation that serves 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

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