Several Large Health Insurers Expand Dental Coverage for Members
Health plans are beginning to expand dental coverage in an effort to reduce spending on medical problems that studies show can result from poor oral hygiene, the Wall Street Journal reports. In March, Aetna and the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine released a two-year study of 144,000 insured patients that finds early periodontal treatment reduces overall medical care costs by 9% for diabetes, 16% for coronary artery disease and 11% for strokes. Another study, published in the Journal of Periodontology, finds that early treatment of pregnant women with serious gum disease reduces preterm births by 84%. According to Kenneth Krebs, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, bacteria around the tooth root might cause the body to produce a substance that induces labor. That same bacteria also might prompt the body to produce substances that clog arteries, exacerbating heart disease and stroke risk. In addition, any inflammation in the body might make it difficult for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels. According to the Journal, insurers that offer both dental and medical care coverage anticipate that if they expand dental care, they will ultimately save on medical treatment for chronic diseases. Insurers such as Cigna and Aetna have expanded dental coverage offerings for enrollees who would most benefit -- such as pregnant women and people with cardiac disease -- to include such services as an additional third cleaning per year and scaling and root planing to remove plaque around the tooth root. Glenn Melenyk, dental consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said, "We can save medical costs by getting people to have dental care at the right time in their lives" (McQueen, Wall Street Journal, 9/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.