Study author Paul Glassman, a dentist and director of the Pacific Center for Special Care at University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics found out-of-pocket dental expenses cost consumers $30.7 billion -- 22.2 percent of total out-of-pocket health expenditures.
The study found 37 percent of African-American children, 41 percent of Hispanic children and 25 percent of white children have untreated tooth decay.
Glassman said the factors driving the focus on quality improvement in oral healthcare are the same ones driving the overall healthcare quality movement.
The study outlined the systemic barriers that have slowed change in dental care improvement include:
-- Limited evidence of best practice for most dental procedures has led to widespread variation in clinical decisions among dentists.
-- Government only pays for about 6 percent of dental care nationally, and dental practices and their patients are not part of a larger provider organization pushing for improvements.
-- Incentives to implement quality improvement programs are few.
Increasing costs, inadequate access to care and profound disparities are creating new pressures for the oral health delivery system to focus on value instead of volume of services, Glassman said.
The findings were presented at a national meeting of oral health professionals, government leaders, consumer advocates and others convened by the Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Institute.