In 2019, there were almost 74 million people, or nearly 25% of Americans, without dental insurance in the United States. At the height of the unemployment rate’s rise, coronavirus-related job losses and cutbacks left more than 16 million people without dental insurance from an employer. Some of that population will either purchase individual dental coverage, or else find coverage through government plans, but the number of individuals without dental insurance is still expected to increase to as many as 82 million individuals.

Let’s take a closer look at this growing market.

Who are the uninsured?

When examining the 2019 enrollment survey by the National Association of Dental Plans, there are two qualities that jump out when looking at the average uninsured individual.

The first is that people without dental insurance tend to be older than the average American, with an average age of 53.

Second, the uninsured are more likely to be women. Women make up 66% of the uninsured population in America.

Beyond that, the uninsured are a fairly diverse group.

  • Compared to the general population, the uninsured are less likely to be working full-time,with 40% employed and 40% retired. The remaining 20% are unemployed or not working by choice.
  • The uninsured are more likely to be non-Hispanic whites than the general population, at nearly 80% compared to 60.7% for the general population.
  • More than a quarter have children under age 26 at home. Over 40% of the general population has children in this age group at home, so the uninsured are less likely to have children at home than the general population.
  • More than half have some college education. The gap between the uninsured and the general population is very small here. As a whole, just over 50% of Americans over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • More than half of the uninsured are married or in a domestic partnership. A little less than a quarter are single, and the remainder are divorced or widowed.

Why don’t people have dental insurance?

One reason why the uninsured don’t have coverage may have to do with the high average age of the group. They may be retired or reliant on Medicare for insurance, and only Medicare C plans may cover dental. For these individuals, remind them of the low monthly cost of premiums and the size of Delta Dental’s network to help them see that dental coverage is both affordable on a fixed income and easy to access.

There may also be a general lack of information, particularly among those who are retired or jobless and don’t have a benefits administrator to curate plans. Share resources such as Grin! to help them understand why dental coverage is important and what their options are.

Some of the uninsured may have chosen to not have dental insurance, especially if they’ve been looking to cut costs due to changes in their employment status. Over the past year, 39% of Americans reduced or eliminated their insurance for financial reasons, according to Dentistry Today. Of those who have been furloughed or laid off because of COVID-19, this number jumps to 65%.

Common reasons given for choosing not to have insurance include:

  • “My oral health is already good, and I don’t need to visit the dentist.”
  • “Dental insurance isn’t worth the money. I’d rather pay out of pocket.”
  • “I don’t have insurance, because I use a flex spending or health savings account to cover costs.”
  • “The dentist I see isn’t in the insurance network anyway.”

Sharing information about the benefits of dental insurance, even in times of economic uncertainty and the coronavirus pandemic, may help persuade these individuals. You can also remind them that having insurance can be worthwhile because it makes it easier to keep dependents covered, including some adult children.

COVID-19 and the uninsured

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have affected the uninsured population especially hard. Without insurance to help catch issues early, the uninsured are more likely to have untreated oral health issues and other problems. People with oral health issues and chronic diseases are at higher risk of hospitalization from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having and using dental insurance can help lower the risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Given that the uninsured population is more likely to be vulnerable to costly dental bills, inadequate dental care and experiencing health issues that go alongside poor oral health, dental coverage is more important than ever before.