Dental, health and disability insurers may be facing a hidden recession-related challenge: Persuading women to see the dentist.
When researchers at the Commonwealth Fund, New York, analyzed data from the health policy think tank’s 2007 health insurance survey, they found that 27% of the participating women who had health insurance had failed to get dental care in the past year due to concerns about cost, compared with just 22% of the insured male participants.
The gap was even more dramatic for participants without health coverage: 60% of the uninsured women had gone without dental care, compared with just 39% of the uninsured men.
The Commonwealth Fund published those figures in May, using the latest available data. Experts fear that access to dental care may have deteriorated since then, along with the state of the economy.
If that’s the case, women may be facing even greater pressure to avoid dental care at a time when some studies suggest that dental problems, and especially gum disease, may be associated with the likelihood that women will suffer serious, potentially disabling general health problems, such as pregnancy complications.
Proving that oral health problems are directly related to general health problems, rather than resulting from common causes, such as poverty or tobacco use, is difficult.
Preeclampsia, for example, is a relatively common pregnancy complication that can lead to premature birth, sky-high medical claims, and short-term or long-term maternal disability. Researchers at the University of the Valle de Cali, Colombia, reported in the Journal of Periodontology in February 2006 that 64% of the pregnant women they examined who had preeclampsia had chronic gum disease, compared with 36% of the women without preeclampsia.
Later in 2006, Tulane University researchers noted in BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynecology, that some studies appeared to show no correlation between gum disease and pregnancy complications, but that clinical trials had indicated that providing extra gum care for pregnant women might lead to a 50% reduction in preterm births. Some other studies found no association between gum disease and pregnancy complications.
This year, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that adjusting for confounding factors appears to eliminate any correlation between gum disease and pregnancy outcomes.
Finnish researchers reported in July 2007 in the journal Atherosclerosis that exposure to one type of bacteria that causes gum disease appears to be associated with a doubling of the risk that women will suffer from another major cause of disability claims–stroke.