The Longer You Go Without It, The Worse It'll Get


Have you been putting off needed dental treatment because you're afraid of the possible expense? If so, you're not alone. Unfortunately, if you put the health of your wallet before that of your teeth, you're also making a big mistake.

That's because dental problems will never go away by themselves. They will only get worse, and when they do, the cost of getting the care you need is sure to be that much greater. At that point, your money won't be the only thing to go. You'll also very likely lose some teeth.

The percentage of people who tend to forgo necessary dental treatment due to its cost will vary by age. Adults ranging from 19 through 64 years comprise the largest group and account for 12.8 percent of all adults. Seniors, on the other hand, make up 7.2 percent while fear of the expense will cause 4.3 percent of children to miss out on dental care.

People whose incomes fall beneath the poverty line fare even worse with almost 25 percent avoiding dental care for this same reason. Surprisingly, however, even individuals who carry dental insurance will frequently be unable to afford having their teeth fixed due to insufficient coverage or trouble finding a dentist who accepts their insurance. While some people cite fear of dental treatment or inability to fit appointments into their schedules as justification for skipping treatment, inability to afford the care remains the biggest culprit.

The Link Between Dental and Physical Health

Despite the strong connection between dental health and physical well-being, programs designed to foster public health often fail to see it. Although Medicaid does offer dental coverage to minor children across the country, this is not true in 22 of the 50 states, and many of the remaining 28 that offer it do so in varying degrees. While Illinois Medicaid, for example, will cover basic dental fillings, extractions and even some crowns and root canals, it will not pay for partial dentures. Medicare, for its part, offers no dental benefits of any sort anywhere in the country.

These oversights fail to recognize the fact that the mouth is part of the body, and bacteria that may reside there can affect a person's entire physical well-being. Dr. Marko Vujicic, a vice president and chief economist at the American Dental Association, bemoans this lack of recognition, citing the obvious fact that due to this unquestionable mouth-body link, proper and timely attention to people's dental needs can reduce health care costs overall. For this reason, Dr. Vujicic is a strong proponent of increasing Medicaid coverage for dental care overall and adding it under Medicaid in the 22 states that currently do not have it.

The longer people put off having dental issues seen to, the worse they are going to get. Once the have reached the point of needing immediate care, the sufferer is often more likely to head for the nearest hospital instead of a dental office. In recent years, the number of emergency room visits for the treatment of abscesses and other oral infections has reached an average cost of $1.9 billion every year, and 40 percent of this total is paid with public money. Most of these visits had to do with conditions that could better have been dealt with in a dentist's office at less cost to the taxpayer.

Dr. Vujicic sees this as a wasteful and highly inefficient way of spending money. He is aware that adding dental benefits to Medicaid coverage in the 22 states that currently do not have it would cost between $1.4 and $1.6 billion of public money every year. Nevertheless, that would still be a savings when compared to the annual cost of covering repeated hospital visits for emergency dental care.

Dr. James White looks forward to the day when every United States citizen has access to good dental insurance. Until that time arrives, however, he hopes even more strongly that people who need dental assistance now will have the work done before their conditions get any worse. As much of a financial burden as it might seem today, you can rest assured that left unchecked, dental problems will wreak havoc with your wallet as well as with your health in the years to come.