Layoffs and benefits cutbacks caused national dental plan enrollment to fall 5.7% in 2009, to 166 million.

The National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), Dallas, and the Delta Dental Plans Association, Oak Brook, Ill., have reported that finding in their 2010 dental benefits enrollment report, which compares enrollment figures for 2009 and 2008.

The drop in enrollment is the first the NADP has recorded since it began tracking Down arrowenrollment data in 1994.

NADP researchers have based the latest report on a survey of 88 dental coverage providers.

The percentage of the U.S. population with dental coverage fell to 54% at the end of 2009, from 57% at the end of 2008, NADP officials say.

The number of employer groups offering dental coverage held steady, but the average size of the groups shrank, according to NADP Executive Director Evelyn Ireland.

Kim Volk, president of the Delta Dental Plans Association, says in a statement about the latest enrollment figures that employers still see dental coverage as a core benefit.

“The reduction in subscribers in some employer groups in 2009 most likely reflects family financial constraints and layoffs,” Volk says.

Although employers are continuing to offer dental coverage at about the same rate, some are reducing dental benefits spending by asking employees to pay

a higher percentage of the premiums, the NADP says.

In other NADP/Delta Dental survey news:

- Dental preferred provider organization plans increased their share of the market in 2009, and discount programs maintained their share. Indemnity plans and dental health maintenance organization plans lost share.

- Only 1% of U.S. residents with dental coverage have individual coverage.

- Allison Bell