Opinion

Where’s dental in the state health exchange?

According to a new survey released today almost all adults in Washington believe that oral health is important to their overall health.

These views are supported by medical, dental and public health experts who confirm that good oral health is an essential part of being healthy and fit.

Despite the proven connection between oral health and overall health, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) doesn’t include dental care for adults.

However, Washington State is considering adding adult dental coverage to the Exchange in 2015.

This is good news because polling shows that the overwhelming majority of people in Washington believe that oral health is important.

A statewide survey of 1,200 adults over age 25 released recently by the Washington Dental Service (WDS) Foundation reveals that:

Four out of five Washingtonians (83 percent) agree that  “it is important for Washington state to provide access to quality dental care to adults who can’t afford it, including preventive care.”

Almost all (98 percent) of Washington adults over 25 said oral health is important to their overall health.

Despite this, one out of three Washingtonians (32 percent) lack the coverage for dental care and nearly a quarter (23 percent) have not had a dental check-up in the past year.

There is a growing recognition that oral health affects overall health.

“It is time to stop treating the mouth differently from the body,” said Tom Locke, MD, MPH, Health Officer for Clallam and Jefferson Counties and WDS Foundation Trustee. “Everyone agrees that insurance coverage is essential for the rest of their body, why should the mouth be excluded? There is strong evidence that poor oral health is linked to a variety of serious health conditions. You’re not healthy without a healthy mouth.”

Dental disease is almost entirely preventable, but when people do not receive routine care, small problems can quickly deteriorate into severe infections and lost teeth.

Untreated dental problems cause needless pain and suffering, threaten overall health, and can end up costing thousands of dollars in treatment and time away from work.

Every cavity prevented saves thousands of dollars over a person’s lifetime.

Regular dental checkups, along with proper brushing and flossing, can save huge amounts of money for individuals, families and businesses.   Preventive care even saves money for taxpayers who cover the costs of providing dental care to low-income people in the state.

“People in Washington report that dental care is very important to them, yet many are neglecting this critical aspect of their overall health,” said Eve Rutherford, DDS and chairwoman of the Washington Dental Service Foundation.

“It’s unfortunate and shortsighted because good oral health makes people feel better and look better. Plus catching dental disease early saves a lot of money.”

When people don’t have access to dental care they often end up seeking expensive emergency care. In the most recent study conducted by the Washington State Hospital Association, dental problems were a key reason why individuals seek care in emergency rooms at a cost of $36 million over an 18-month period.

But emergency rooms only treat the pain and infection; they are not equipped to treat the underlying dental problem.

The value of good oral health extends well beyond avoiding dental costs. Poor oral health is linked to serious chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Among diabetics, for example, treating gum disease can help control blood sugar levels and avoid costly hospitalizations and medical complications such as blindness and amputations.

“The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body,” said Jim Sledge, DDS and faculty member at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE).

“Good preventive care and oral health checkups are just as important as managing cholesterol, regular exercise and good nutrition. Ensuring that people have the dental care they need to stay healthy should be a priority. We don’t ignore an infection in any other part of the body. The mouth should not be treated any differently.”

To raise awareness that oral health is an essential part of overall health, the Washington Dental Service Foundation is working with physicians and dental and fitness experts across the state to develop a statewide campaign that will be launched in January. The campaign, which will include advertising and social media, is designed to help people value their oral health and motivate them to do more to prevent dental disease and stay healthy. To learn more, visit www.TheMightyMouth.org.

About Washington Dental Service Foundation:

Washington Dental Service Foundation is a non-profit funded by Delta Dental of Washington, the leading dental benefits company in Washington.

The Foundation works with partners to develop and execute innovative programs and public policies that produce permanent changes in the healthcare arena and improve the public’s long-term oral health.

The Foundation focuses on children and seniors, two groups especially vulnerable to oral disease.

 

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Aug 22 edition online now. Browse the archives.