Dental insurers have been careful in recent years about giving dental care and dental coverage too much credit for improving patients’ overall health.
Doctors have known for decades that healthy people tend to have healthy teeth and gums. But scientists have had a hard time proving whether oral health problems were causing general health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, or whether the general health problems were causing the oral health problems.
This year, workers afraid of losing jobs– and dental benefits–have rushed to see their dentists while they still have their benefits.
“People are interested in getting to see the dentist in a very timely fashion,” says Theresa McConeghey, dental products director at Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa.
In the short run, the cost of the extra preventive care and basic restorative services could cause problems, she says.
But in the long run, “it really is a positive trend,” she adds. “Consumers are becoming more aware of their dental benefits.”
The rush to dental care could pay off by helping some patients improve their overall level of health.
Scientists have been publishing papers that support the idea that paying more attention to dental health could help hold down medical benefits costs, by leading to improvements in conditions ranging from diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis.
A systematic review and analysis of earlier studies suggests that periodontal treatments probably help people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels for at least 2 months, according to a team led by W. Teeuw of the University of Amsterdam.
Teeuw and colleagues reported in a paper published in February in Diabetes Care that they found 5 suitable English-language articles to analyze, and that those studies included 371 patients. All of the studies found that patients with diabetes who received extra treatments for gum disease did better than the patients in the control groups, the researchers reported.