Those Who Can Afford a Dentist Don’t Need One

Picture the ideal “American dream” family: A father with a job that pays well, a nurturing mother, and their 2.5 children. This family has the time and money to schedule all of their necessary dentist appointments. In this reality, the father’s job probably has excellent benefits that include dental insurance, the mother will take the children to their dentist appointments, and the children grow up with the assurance of regular dental care and braces to fix any issues with their smile. This upper middle-class family with already perfect teeth easily makes the recommended bi-annual trips to the dentist for upkeep. Unfortunately, this is not an actuality for the majority of families. Many poor and lower-middle-class families do not receive adequate care, in part because most dentists want customers who can pay cash or have private insurance.

This prevalent problem raises the question: Is the dentist in the habit of helping people, or in the business of making money? Look at the following statistics and decide for yourself. Dentist fees have risen much faster than inflation. In real dollars, the cost of the average dentist procedure rose 25% from 1996 to 2004. In addition, dentists’ incomes have grown much faster than that of the typical worker. American dentists in general practice made an average salary of $164,570 in 2012. In contrast, the average salary amongst the general public was $51,017 that same year.

Dentist income has been rising since 2004 at a rate faster than inflation
Since the end of the recession, the annual media income per household has had a difficult time rebounding.

The American Dental Association believes this imbalance comes from a shortage of dentists. However, we believe the true problem stems from dentists unwillingness to practice in areas where they are needed. Dentists have a disproportionate presence in affluent suburbs, whereas those who are most in need of care are concentrated in inner cities and rural communities. As many as 130 million Americans do not have dental insurance coverage, and some of those have attempted to use Medicaid to gain access to dental care. Unfortunately, only about 20% of the nation’s practicing dentists provide care to people with Medicaid, and, of those who do, only a small percentage devote a substantial part of their practice to serving those who are poor, chronically ill, or living in rural communities.

The “typical” family referenced earlier is merely a fantasy for the majority of hard-working people. In the current economy, between going to work, paying bills, and taking care of a family there just isn’t enough money for regular dental visits, much less any sort of cosmetic dentistry. Those who can afford a dentist don’t need it, and those who do can’t afford it may be in desperate need.

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