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New Medicaid Dental Coverage is About Public Health, too

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Charles Rex Arbogast
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750,000 Virginians who use Medicaid are set to gain more comprehensive dental coverage July 1st, in a policy that experts say could improve public health outcomes and costs to the healthcare system. 3.2 million Virginians have no dental insurance, according to the Virginia Health Care Foundation.

People enrolled in Medicaid request dental care more than any other treatment, according to the Department of Medical Assistive Services.

In 2018, almost 19,000 visits to the emergency room were for dental care, equating to about $15 million in costs

“Emergency room dentistry is basically treating infections and severe dental disease,” said Frank Iuorno, the president of the Virginia Dental Association. “We know from several studies that preventative medicine or dentistry is not only more cost effective, but it's also easier.”

American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute estimates that dental benefits provided through Medicaid could reduce emergency room visits by 25% in two years and 50% in three years.

Even before a toothache can develop into something life threatening, it has other effects on well-being, said Tegwyn Brickhouse, the chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Dental Public Health and Policy.

“It definitely interferes with your ability to pay attention, your ability to work comfortably in your job,” she said. Brickhouse said that adult care could help children’s health as well.

“We know that parents or adults that have coverage can use those dental benefits and then their children are more likely to use their dental benefits.”

Children and those who are pregnant were already covered until the Smiles for Children Program. On July 1st, Medicaid beneficiaries will be incorporated into the program without needing to fill out any paperwork.

The new coverage will allow for cleanings and preventive care, x-rays and exams, fillings, dentures, root canals, gum-related treatment, and oral surgeries. It will not cover braces or bridges.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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