Dental care is an afterthought, and that’s a big problem by @AlexFrommeyer (via @TheHill)

24 Aug

Alex Frommeyer

My mission is to get you to care about your teeth. Here’s why.

Since its official implementation, we’ve been arguing about whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working. In general, I agree with USC’s Dr. Cary Presant and his recent ACA report card, which is worth reading.

But there’s one thing missing with his opinion and nearly every other analysis out there. Almost no one is focusing on how the ACA impacts dental care, or rather, how it doesn’t.

If you take a closer look, you may be surprised to find that the ACA barely addresses dental at all. Herein lies my biggest concern: either no one knows that dental insurance is slighted in the legislation, or worse, they don’t care.

Yes, the Affordable Care Act has resulted in a meaningful reduction in the number of uninsured Americans, but under the law adults do not have to be offered dental insurance. And although it must be offered for children, you don’t have to buy it.

The fact of the matter is, millions have been left without dental coverage – over 100 million Americanshave no dental insurance. When we talk about a “coverage gap” (definition here) dental care should be front and center.

Right now, states have very little financial motivation to add dental offerings. As a result, even if you’re on the side of the fence that agrees the ACA is working, it’s unlikely that the increase in Medicaid enrollment has resulted in an increase in dental benefits.

The 2015 Federal Reserve Board of Governor’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households found that dental care access has stayed alarmingly stagnant over the past decade, and socioeconomic factors often play a key role in whether you have access or not.

This has an unfortunate ripple effect as inaccessibility means people don’t go to the dentist, and what would otherwise be a minor issue then becomes a major problem. The more significant the problem becomes, the larger financial and medical impact that results.

A root canal alone, which is avoidable with the right preventative care, can cost nearly $1,000. When you’re paying out of pocket, that number might hurt more than the procedure itself.

The Federal Reserve Board report also noted that medical emergencies were the primary reason for financial hardship. Forgoing medical care due to cost has been directly correlated with income – ie., the less you make, the less preventative care you take advantage of.

As the number of people seeking dental treatment through emergency room visits increases, not having dental coverage will cost Medicaid more money in the long run. This stat always astounds me: dental-related emergency-room visits nearly doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010 per the ADA (report).

Did you know that oral health has direct ties to overall health?

Medical issues including heart disease, diabetes, and more are impacted by oral bacteria and disease. This is not to mention the fact that your general wellbeing, confidence, and self-worth are often tied to how you feel about your smile – these qualities impact further life achievements like establishing healthy relationships and stable income.

When you consider that tooth decay is the number one chronic disease affecting children, you can hopefully begin to see why I care so much about this topic. It’s not just about today, it’s about setting ourselves up for a healthier future.

Let’s be clear: everything described here is absolutely attainable. Oral disease is largely preventable, which means that by simply brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, and regularly visiting a dentist, many of the residual problems that result from poor dental care can be avoided in the first place.

Dental insurance is the other key piece of the puzzle – when you have it, you’re much more likely to go to the dentist for routine care. When you don’t… you get the point.

Remember when I mentioned that more than 100 million people don’t have dental insurance?
The unfortunate fact is that dental insurance is usually the first thing cut from everyone’s budget, whether from Medicaid (link) or from employers that offer corporate benefits.

Do you have dental benefits? Are you sure? And either way, have you given them much thought? Given the chain reaction that can occur when you don’t have access to good dental care, I hope you will.

Whether or not you think about dental benefits every day, make sure you and your family are covered, as you may end up paying dearly long term without it.



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