Delayed Dental Work Can Cost You

One of the most cited reasons for not visiting the dentist, or receiving dental treatment, is cost. Repairing a chipped tooth or having a crown placed on a severely decayed tooth can cost a substantial amount of money, but delaying treatment often ends up costing you a lot more, not just monetarily, but in pain and discomfort too.

According to a recent article from the Washington Post, the majority of emergency room dental visits resulted from infections that could have been handled in a dentist’s office. Overall, the cost of emergency room dental visits is $1.9 billion annually, of which 40% is paid with public money.

“I’m comfortable calling that highly wasteful,” said Marko Vujicic, chief economist and vice president of the Health Policy Institute at the American Dental Association.

The article went on to tell the story of Angela Lombardi, of Bensenville, Illinois. Angela kept putting off having several cavities filled because of the cost, until finally the pain became so unbearable, she wound up at the county clinic, where the fee was low. Unfortunately, because she did not treat them in time, Angela had to have five teeth pulled. But that was just the beginning of her problems. At just 32 years old, Angels had a difficult time chewing food and felt too embarrassed about her missing teeth to smile.

“Gosh, I had so many teeth pulled because of not having enough money to go to the dentist to get them treated,” said Lombardi, who is not 39. “When I got them pulled, there’s this empty space and it’s ugly…You can’t chew, you can’t smile.”

Angela finally received help at Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine, where she will get a bridge and crowns for about $3,000. The dental school only charges approximately 33-50% of the fees charged by private dentists, which can help the growing issue of people avoiding dental work due to cost.

Vujicic recently led a study in Health Affairs that found that more and more people are skipping the dentist over other types of health care because of finances. In fact, adults ages 19-64 said they were more likely to forgo dental care because of cost than children or seniors. And nearly 25% of adults with incomes below the poverty line said they did not receive dental care because of cost. Even people with dental insurance claimed to be avoiding treatment because of money, according to the study. Others reasons for avoidance included fear, inconvenient locations or appointment times, and trouble finding a dentist who take their insurance.

Vujicic stated that public health programs don’t give enough credence to the connection between oral and overall health. While Medicaid includes dental coverage for children and some states have expanded to include adults, 22 states still do not offer dental care for adults.

“You and I understand the mouth is connected to the body, that bacteria in the mouth affects bacteria in the body, but policy doesn’t,” Vujicic said. “There is emerging and new evidence showing the link between chronic disease and oral health.”

Research has shown that oral care can in fact help reduce overall health-care costs. Vujicic is a strong believer that more oral health insurance coverage, in both public and private sectors, is necessary. He claims that adding dental coverage under Medicaid for the 22 states without it would cost about $1.5 billion annually, but some of that would be recouped from fewer oral care emergency room visits.

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