Why High Rent Means More Cavities

by Satinder Haer


Rent prices in the U.S. hit all-time highs this year, putting extra pressure on renters’ finances and causing them to forgo other expenses to afford their housing. Rents remained high throughout the housing market bubble, crash and recovery, but prices continue to climb – creating true affordability concerns for many renters.


Before the burst of the housing bubble in 2007, renters spent roughly 24 percent of their monthly income on housing while homeowners spent just 21.3 percent of their income on their mortgages. While renters were spending more each month than homeowners before the recession, the difference between the two was not as dramatic as it is today. In 2015, renters typically spend 30 percent of their monthly income on housing, with renters in extremely popular areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles spend more than 45 percent. Meanwhile, homeowners nationwide are spending even less of their income on their mortgages than they did before the market bubble – just 15 percent. With wages remaining stagnant, renters must cut budgeting in other areas to afford housing.


Dental care tops the list of services that renters skip to make their rent payments. Among households spending 30 percent or more of their income on rent, 40 percent skipped dental care in the last 12 months. Renters avoid preventive dental care such as check-ups and routine cleanings because the services just don’t make their budget cuts. Unfortunately for these folks, preventive care helps avoid more serious and much more costly dental problems down the road.

Zillow chart image

The high cost of dental care might be a contributing factor behind renters passing on it more often than other services. The typical cost of preventive dental care is around $300 for routine cleanings. Costs climb for specialized procedures, especially services required after long periods without cleanings. Dental insurance can help absorb the cost of procedures but not all individuals are covered by their employers or able to afford private plans. With steep dental care prices, individuals on tight budgets might not be compelled to seek out care until absolutely necessary. In the meantime, they might be developing cavities or gum diseases, that left untreated can lead to serious systemic issues down the road.


Dentists that provide frequent, low-cost cleanings and X-rays could incentivize renters to pursue their preventive care options. Prevention is less costly and healthier than treating full-fledged dental problems. While lower-priced preventive dental services won’t curb the overall rental crisis, dentists can help their patients’ oral health and in turn lessen the total effects on renters.

High rent chart

Dentists who curb some of their patients’ behavior of avoiding oral hygiene with a price model that rewards continual care can help produce healthier patients.

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