American businesses cover 57% of their employees’ healthcare costs each year, according to the 2015 Milliman Medical Index, totaling $14,000 per employee. The Dental Trade Alliance (DTA), however, has studied those numbers to find ways to improve oral healthcare while cutting costs. For example:
- If 60% of diabetes patients better managed their gum disease, about $39 billion per year could be saved, or about $1,845 per patient.
- If 40% of pregnant women better managed their gum disease, about $7 billion per year could be saved, or nearly $1,050 per pregnancy.
- If 50% of ventilator-associated pneumonia patients also could receive oral care, about $5 billion could be saved.
- If 50% of dental-related visits to emergency rooms were handled in a community setting instead, around $826 million could be saved, or $385 per visit.
- If 20% more oral cancer cases could be detected early, about $495 million could be saved.
- If 50% of low-income children could be treated with dental sealants, about $101 million could be saved.
“The government, American business, and the American people need to understand that regular oral healthcare makes economic sense,” said Uma Kelekar, PhD, MA, assistant professor of healthcare management and legal studies at the Marymount University School of Business Administration and author of the DTA’s study.
Kelekar also notes that while the number of children receiving dental care is increasing, the number of adults getting care is decreasing, with only about half of needed care being provided. While part of the problem is access to care, she said, a lack of understanding about the oral-systemic health link also is a factor.
“If every American had a dental appointment every year, the overall health of the nation would improve. That’s because oral health is essential to overall health,” Kelekar said. “When neglected, oral infections can spread to the rest of the body. When coinciding with systemic diseases, gum disease worsens illness.”
For example, another study examined more than 90,000 patients with type 2 diabetes and periodontal disease. Some of the subjects received periodontal treatment, and others did not. Those who were treated saved $2,840 per year, or 40.2% of their total diabetes care costs, with drug costs decreasing $1,477 and 39.4% percent fewer hospitalizations.
The DTA encourages American businesses to provide comprehensive dental plans to their employees. Businesses also can design wellness programs to encourage use of this coverage, the DTA says. Furthermore, the DTA suggests, healthcare organizations including insurance companies can better integrate oral care into primary care.
Policymakers, the DTA adds, can consider mandatory dental coverage to encourage regular care. They also can redesign government programs to extend broader care to adults and children. And finally, the DTA urges pediatricians, primary care physicians, and dental hygienists to deliver more extensive care through virtual exams and community-based oral health centers.