There is a potential association between treated gum disease and reduced medical costs for patients with diabetes, according to a study conducted by CIGNA.

The findings of the three-year claims study were presented during a recent meeting of the International Association for Dental Research in San Diego.

The study was presented by Dr. Clay Hedlund, a CIGNA dental director; Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, dean emeritus and professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine; Dr. Robert Genco, a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo Schools of Dental Medicine; and Dr Nipul Tanna, a clinical assistant professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

Drs. Jeffcoat and Genco are members of the CIGNA Dental Clinical Advisory Panel. IADR is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research and increasing knowledge to improve oral health worldwide.

Hedlund said the study corroborates the results of CIGNA’s prior research, presented at the IADR meeting in 2009, in support of a possible association between the treatment of gum disease and lower medical costs in the treatment of diabetes.

In the current study, patients who were treated for gum disease in the first year of the study and then received regular maintenance care thereafter had lower medical costs than those patients who had previously been treated for gum disease but did not receive regular maintenance care.

On average, medical costs were $2,483 per year lower, or 23% less, for patients with diabetes who had proper gum disease treatment, he said.

Hedlund said that these results suggest that treating gum disease has benefits beyond better oral health and may also help to control medical costs for some patients as well.

The length of the study period was three full years, 2006 to 2008. It included an examination of medical and dental claims of over 46,094 individuals aged 18-62 who were enrolled in both CIGNA medical and CIGNA dental plans.

The medical cost analysis included 3,449 patients from this group who received treatment for diabetes. These patients were presumed to also have had gum disease since they had received gum therapy at some point.

–Arthur D. Postal