This week, a study featured in the June issue of Pediatrics, conducted by the Department of Health Care Organization and Policy and Lister Hill Center for Health Policy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, raised a few eyebrows within the dental care community. The study reported more preventive visits for children do not reduce overall dental or medical (inclusive of dental) expenditures.
Study researcher Bisakha Sen, PhD, and colleagues analyzed data from Alabama's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) between 1998 and 2010. The database included 14,972 children younger than 8 years and 21,833 children aged 8 years or older.
The study concluded that more preventive visits were associated with fewer subsequent non-preventive dental visits and lower non-preventive dental expenditures for both groups. However, the study also concluded preventive visits did not reduce overall dental or medical (inclusive of dental) expenditures.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) responded to these conclusions by providing some important contextual considerations for the results, including the family’s ability to access care and preventive services, the levels of health literacy of the family, and social, cultural and economic pressures.
As a dental administrator for many state health plans, DentaQuest understands that CHIP programs are the vehicle for many at-risk children to get dental care. These children often start at a deficit, with multiple unaddressed dental needs, some more pressing than others, and therefore they need an ongoing treatment plan. And, as the AAPD response points out, there are other costs not counted as dental, such as dental emergency room visits and services that must be performed under general anesthesia.
Preventive care is important for everyone, but especially for children. Dental disease is caused by a bacterial infection. It is the most common disease of childhood. Children with untreated dental disease have difficulties eating, learning to speak, and even stay focused in school. The impact of untreated dental disease stays with the child as he or she grows into an adult.
My key takeaway from this study is: “more preventive visits were associated with fewer subsequent non-preventive dental visits and lower non-preventive dental expenditures.” And that’s a good thing.
Prevention is a long term investment in improving lives.