O pin io n of O th e r Jo u rn als
Dental bite still small
■ ■ T h e n ation’s bill for health care last year topped out at $118.5 billion, up 13.9% over 1974’s $104 billion. This $ 14.5-billion growth was the largest dollar increase in history. Interestingly— and m aybe significantly— expenditures on dental care continued a long term decline as a percentage of health care costs. A ccording to the Social Security A dm inistra tion, dental care in 1975 accounted for $7.5 bil lion, or 6.3% , of the health care total. This com pares to 6.5% in 1974, 9.1% in 1971, and 10.1% in 1950. W hy is the dental care tail getting sm aller while the total health care dog is getting bigger? T he answ er may be found in looking at the level of public funding o f health care, suggests D r. R ob ert B. Shira, president of the A m erican D ental A ssociation. C urrently, he points out, governm ental bodies pay about 40% of the nation’s total health care costs. D en tistry , how ever, is financed alm ost exclusively through the private sector, with only 5.5% of the total national dental bill coming from governm ent funds. At the sam e time, dentistry has managed to hold the price line. A ccording to the Bureau of L abor S tatistics, dental fees have increased slightly less than average prices in the econom y during th e past seven years.
O ne reason for this is technology and increased productivity. T he high-speed drill, for exam ple, developed by the A D A and offered gratis to all dentists, has been com parable to adding the equivalent of 1,174 dentists, says U niversity o f M ichigan econom ist Paul Feldstein. But the prim ary reason, says Shira, is the sys tem itself. “ T he private (dental) practitioner has none o f the tim e-consum ing adm inistrative stric tures of a clinic, which is generally laden with paperw ork and red ta p e .” T he dental profession supports national health insurance program s if they can be devised to maxim ize the impact of federal funds on the na tion’s dental health, he says. Priorities should be given to care for children and em ergency care for all, and public funds should be restricted to those who cannot afford to pay for health care them selves. But above all, national health care program s should take full advantage of the econom ics and patient conveniences provided by the nation’s existing private dental system w hich, claims Shira, has given the U nited States “ unquestion ably the best dental care and health level in the w orld.” R e p rin te d w ith p e rm is s io n fro m th e C larksville Leaf-Chronicle, M ay 14, 1976.
JADA, Vol. 93, O ctober 1976 ■ 6 8 9