How the Affordable Care Act bites into oral health

Open wide.

No one likes going to the dentist. Some avoid it at all costs. Pediatric dentists offer toys, temporary tattoos and other fun gifts to entice kids to open their mouths.

Unfortunately, your visits to the dentist might become more frequent.

Dental coverage might be more accessible under the Affordable Care Act  Andrew Horne/Wikimedia Commons
Dental coverage might be more accessible under the Affordable Care Act
Andrew Horne/Wikimedia Commons

A panel discussing the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the oral health predicted more people will have dental insurance to allow them to go to the dentist more often.

And that’s a good thing.

Data shows that dental insurance heavily effects whether a person visits the dentist even once a year.  According to the American Dental Association, as of 2009 only 57 percent of Americans had dental insurance.

So what does the remaining 43 percent of Americans do when they have a dental problem? They go to the emergency room.  “In 2010, 10 percent of emergency room visits were related to dental issues,” says Jed Jacobson, senior vice president at Delta Dental of Michigan.

“But nearly 80 percent of those visits were preventable and cost the health care system more than 2 billion.”

Even though we hate it, visiting the dentist is important, especially for those with diabetes.

“Diabetes and periodontitis (an oral disease) go hand in hand,” says Jacobson. “Diabetes increases your risk of periodontitis and periodontitis effects a diabetics ability to manage their glucose levels.”

The good news is the Affordable Care Act could increase the number of Americans will access to dental insurance, especially children.

In the original plan, pediatric dental and vision coverage was included as one of the 10 essential services provided by the Affordable Care Act. This means that 55 percent of kids who don’t have dental insurance could get it by 2018.

However the Affordable Care Act only includes pediatric dental coverage now. “ACA is toothless in regards to adult dental benefits,” says Jacobson.

Still, elements of the Affordable Care Act are constantly being changed and re-evaluated. Recently, pediatric dental and vision coverage became optional services instead of essential ones. That would allow companies providing insurance plan under the act to choose whether to include these plans.

The ACA will be releasing a tracking report on the impact of the plan on the dental industry in spring 2015