Florida leads the nation in the number of individuals living in dental health professional shortage areas. Millions of Floridians live in pain or miss school and work because they can’t find or afford dental care in their communities.
Poor oral health is not only damaging to children’s and adults’ physical health and self-image, but also it can be life threatening. Untreated cavities and poor oral health impair children’s ability to learn and their school performance.
Many myths persist about the state of oral health in Florida, but here’s the reality: Florida ranks poorly on most oral health indicators. Consider these facts:
Florida leads the nation in the number of individuals – nearly 6 million total – living in designated Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Nearly all – 66 out of Florida’s 67 counties – have them.
Like many chronic conditions, the largest burden of disease occurs among marginalized groups such as those living in poverty; members of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities; frail elders; immigrant populations; those with special health care needs; and others.
Top contributing factors to unmet oral health needs include:
Cost: High out-of-pocket costs for dental care is a top reason why Floridians avoid going to the dentist – even if they have dental insurance. Low-income families spend 10 times of their total income on dental care than that of wealthier families. Without dental coverage or the ability to afford care, many adults delay treatment as long as they can. This means they need more expensive and extensive oral care than they would if they had seen a dentist earlier in the disease process.
Provider Availability: With 66 out of 67 Florida counties having designated Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas, millions of Floridians have trouble finding a dentist in their local communities. Long waiting times to be seen or having to travel long distances to be seen are common. 41% of Medicaid adults report that they did not visit a dentist within the last 12 months. Floridians with Medicaid have exceptional access difficulties since only 18% of Florida dentists accept Medicaid.
Coverage: Nearly one in five (19.5%) of Florida adults ages 19 – 64 are uninsured. Florida is one of 10 states nationwide that severely limits dental coverage for adult Medicaid recipients to emergencies only.
Vicious Cycle of Pain, Suffering and High Costs
Far too many Floridians turn to hospital emergency rooms when they can’t stand the pain any longer. But hospitals can only provide temporary relief for non-traumatic dental issues, typically pain pills and antibiotics. Patients are then told to visit a dentist, setting up a vicious cycle of continuous pain and suffering.
Florida hospitals billed nearly $550 MILLION dollars in 2021 for providing this temporary treatment for preventable dental issues. Taxpayers foot the majority of these costs. The economic impact on Florida’s everyday children and families is estimated to be billions of dollars annually.
The oral health care system in our state is failing millions of Floridians each year. Barriers such as high cost of care, provider shortages, lack of dental coverage, transportation issues, cultural and linguistic accessibility persist throughout Florida.
Floridians for Dental Access is committed creating an equitable oral health care system that promotes better health and allows every person to reach their full potential. We invite you to join us.
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