Health Policy

Travel burden and dentist bypass among dentally insured children

McKernan, S.C.; Pooley, M.J.; Momany, E.T.; Kuthy, R.A.


Using administrative data from Iowa Medicaid and a large private dental insurer, we compared distance to the nearest primary care dentist for children ages 6-15 in 2012. Additionally, we examined rates of provider bypass in both populations as an indicator of spatial accessibility to dental care.

We calculated measures of travel burden, including distance to the nearest primary care dentist and distance to current primary care dentist. Distance outcomes and rates of bypass, traveling beyond the nearest dentist for care, were compared by insurance type.

We found that Medicaid-enrolled children lived farther from the nearest dentist and farther from their current dentist than privately insured children. However, rates of bypass were higher among the privately insured population. These results were consistent among urban and rural residents; additionally, both rural populations demonstrated greater travel distances than urban dwellers.

Travel burden was greater among Medicaid-enrolled children. Lower rates of bypass, in conjunction with lower rates of dental utilization in this population, may indicate a distance threshold beyond which dental care becomes unattainable.