Background: Low-income adults in the United States have historically had poor access to dental services largely due to limited dental coverage.
Objective: We examined the effects of recent Medicaid income-eligibility expansions under the Affordable Care Act on dental visits separately for preventive care and treatments.
Research design: We used restricted data from the 2011 to 2016 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey with state geocodes. The main analytical sample included nearly 21,000 individuals who were newly eligible for Medicaid. We employed a quasi-experimental difference-in-differences design to identify the impact of the state Medicaid expansions effective in 2014 on dental services use by the level of state Medicaid dental benefit for the newly eligible.
Results: Expanding Medicaid in 2014 with extensive or limited dental coverage increased preventive dental visits and use of major dental treatments by over 5 percentage-points in 2014 and 2015. The increase in preventive visits continued in 2016 in expanding states with extensive coverage, while increase in major dental treatments continued in 2016 in expanding states with limited coverage. There is some but less consistent evidence of an increase in dental treatment with emergency-only coverage.
Conclusions: Medicaid expansions with dental coverage beyond emergency-only services have increased access of the newly eligible low-income adults to dental treatments and preventive services, with extensive coverage showing continuing increase in preventive services use 3 years after the expansion. With limited coverage, there is some evidence of individuals needing to stretch treatments over a longer period. Providing comprehensive dental coverage can address unmet dental needs and improve oral health among low-income adults.