Last week the Virginia Oral Health Coalition hosted a summit in Richmond to promote better dental care in Virginia. The nonprofit is committed to raising awareness of the connection between dental health and overall health, with a particular emphasis on the health of pregnant women and children. “We have direct service days, but we’re working to change policy so we don’t have to provide charity care,” said Sarah Holland, executive director, VOHC.
The coalition, an outgrowth of Virginians for Increased Access to Dental Care, formed in 2010 and is funded by a grant from the DentaQuest Foundation. It is advocating for an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia — even with a limited dental benefit — because it would improve oral care and reduce associated hospital costs. Its web site points to dental-related problems as the top reason uninsured patients visit the emergency room.
It also supports the Affordable Care Act for its inclusion of dental coverage for children as one of the 10 required essential health benefits in new plans; in Virginia, coverage is up to age 19 to correspond with the CHIP Medicaid program. There are two ways this coverage can be accessed, either as part of a medical plan or in a stand-alone plan. But, like so much else regarding the implementation of Obamacare, the provision is accompanied by some confusion.
Currently, there’s a discrepancy between the requirements of plans offered through the state exchange and those offered outside. Inside the exchange the pediatric dental benefit has to be offered, but doesn’t have to be purchased; outside the exchange, its purchase is required, whether or not the buyer has children, said Chris Pyle, vice president of marketing and government relations for Delta Dental, which has 1.8 million subscribers in Virginia.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It’s causing lots of confusion,” he said. Pyle is hoping that Virginia will follow the example set by regulators in several other states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, who have determined that the existenceof a plan with pediatric coverage is sufficient, whether offered inside or outside the marketplace exchange. “It’s better for the consumer; it makes the small group market more competitive. It’s a simple fix,” he said, noting that currently more than 90 percent of dental benefits are provided separate from medical plans.
The coalition is touting dental health as key to comprehensive, preventive health care through programs at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children, and poor oral health accounts for more than one million lost school hours annually. Oral infections are also linked to heart disease, diabetes and poor pregnancy outcomes.
“One-third of pregnant women have periodontal disease, making them 7.5 times more likely to deliver their baby preterm,” said coalition leader Tegwyn Brickhouse, chair of pediatric dentistry at VCU School of Dentistry. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can lead to the presence of more plaque, which may lead to gingivitis, or gum disease. That, in turn, can increase a mother’s risk for diabetes or high blood pressure.
In 2012, just under 10 percent of Virginia births were preterm, with delivery before 37 weeks gestation, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. (Forty weeks is considered full-term.) The state has developed several awareness programs, including Virginia Healthy Start Initiative Loving Steps, to work with targeted communities to reduce those numbers.
The VOAHC has these tips for maintaining good oral hygiene:
• Brush your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day;
• Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or more often;
Do not share your toothbrush;
• Floss daily;
• Rinse every night with an over-the-counter alcohol-free mouthwash;
• After eating, chew xylitol-containing gum or other products, such as mints, which can help reduce bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Source: Daily Press