Social inequality in access to oral health care is a feature of countries with predominantly privately funded markets for dental services. Private markets for health care have inherent inefficiencies whereby sick and poor people have restricted access compared to their healthy and more affluent compatriots. In the future, access to dental care may worsen as trends in demography, disease and development come to bear on national oral healthcare systems. However, increasing public subsidies for the poor may not increase their access unless availability issues are resolved. Further, increasing public funding runs counter to policies that feature less government involvement in the economy, tax policy on private insurance premiums, tax reductions and, in some instances, free-trade agreements. We discuss these issues and provide international examples to illustrate the consequences of the differing public policies in oral health care. Subsidization of the poor by inclusion of dental care in social health insurance models appears to offer the most potential for equitable access. We further suggest that nations need to develop national systems capable of the surveillance of disease and human resources, and of the monitoring of appropriateness and efficiency of their oral healthcare delivery systems. © 2008 The Authors.
- Health policy
- Health services accessibility
- Oral health