The Effect of Community-Level Unemployment on Preventive Oral Health Care Utilization

Oral health is an important part of disease prevention, appearance and overall health and is necessary for many functions including eating, nutrition and communication. Preventive dental care is a critical element in the ongoing improvement in oral health care in the United States.

In this study, the authors test the hypothesis that high community-level unemployment is associated with a reduction in the use of preventive dental care in a dentally-insured population living in two metropolitan areas of Washington. Monthly unemployment data were obtained for the 120 months beginning in January 1995 and ending in December 2004. The study measures preventive dental care utilization by the number of preventive visits in each community. This data came from Washington Dental Services, while the unemployment data came from Washington’s Employment Security Department. In Spokane and Seattle, the results were relatively small in magnitude though the findings in both populations studied show that preventive health care utilization does decrease during periods of high unemployment.

Since this study considers the dentally-insured population, one can only assume the hypothesis would prove even truer for those patients who are uninsured. The study’s findings have implications for policy-makers, dentists, insurers and researchers.