Friday, December 18, 2009

A Resolution to Smile About

The many family and social gatherings between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are trying times for your waistline … and for your teeth.

Americans consume roughly 675 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Billions of candy canes are eaten each holiday season and each person puts away an estimated 12 pounds of premium chocolates. Almost all of our favorite holiday treats are filled sugar that could all take a serious toll on your teeth.

And it’s not just the food. Americans drank enough last year for every person to have had 7 bottles of liquor, 12 bottles of wine, and 230 cans of beer. If you don't make good decisions about what you are eating and drinking, or properly clean your teeth afterward, you could end up with tooth decay, gum disease and possible tooth loss.

With this in mind, I want to share some oral health tips that will help keep your smile intact this holiday season and into the next:

If you drink wine, choose red over white. White wine is more acidic than red wine and it contains more sugar, making it more harmful for your teeth in the long run. Researchers say contact with white wine erodes the tooth’s protective enamel - making teeth more sensitive to cold, hot and sweet food.

Regardless of the color of the wine, rinse your mouth with water before brushing your teeth. Brushing immediately after consuming wine, a very acidic beverage, may damage the tooth's structure. Give your mouth’s saliva time to re-mineralize the tooth structure and neutralize possible damage. So wait, and then rinse with water before brushing.

If you choose to drink spirits or liquor, the opposite is true. Opt for lighter or clear liquids to avoid higher sugar content. Also, be aware of the sugar content of your favorite mixers. And as with the wine, rinse your mouth with water after you drink and before you brush your teeth.

Eat some cheese. The mouth naturally becomes more acidic after eating to aid digestion. Cheese keeps the mouth less acidic and therefore healthier for teeth. Cheese also coats the teeth with calcium and prevents demineralization. (And consider this -- chewing sugarless gum increases saliva, which helps clear food from tooth crevices and replaces essential minerals on teeth. We recommend gum with the sweetener Xylitol which is a natural cavity fighter.)

Consume candy in moderation – sugar free if possible. If you are choosing between a candy cane and a piece of chocolate, go with the chocolate. Sticky candies are less likely to wash out from between your teeth with saliva and therefore get more time in contact with your teeth. (This is also true for fruit cake.) Also, avoid biting directly down on hard candies to avoid fracturing a tooth.

Resolve to floss at least once a day this next year. If you are already a flosser, good for you. If you aren’t, or are only flossing sparingly, make a resolution to add this to your family’s daily routine. To get you started, most dentists give you a free trial size to ease you into this great lifelong habit.

No matter how exhausted you may be from hosting your family or attending your fifth party in a row, remember to brush your teeth before you go to bed. If all the acid from the food you ate gets 8 hours to fester in your mouth, it can do a lot of damage that you could have been prevented with 2 minutes and a toothbrush. Do the same in the morning --keep in mind plaque builds up even if you haven't eaten anything for 8 hours.

Good dental habits throughout the holidays – and year round – will help make for a happier New Year. As you make plans for 2010, I hope you all will resolve to be better to your teeth because that’s something we can all smile about.

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Linda Vidone, Associate Dental Director for DentaQuest

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dental Care as an Essential Benefit

When times are tough and people tighten their belts and family budgets, visits to doctors and dentists often get cut. Even relatively small co-pays can be justification to skip a check-up, renew a prescription, get an annual dental cleaning, or even get a small cavity filled. Unfortunately, ignoring routine care can have serious consequences.

Many States are facing budget challenges as well. As legislatures work to close shortfalls in state budgets, dental benefits provided through Medicaid are being cut or eliminated. This year, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington have considered funding cuts to, or elimination of, dental benefits. The numbers are significant –California stands to save about $614 million per year. Massachusetts hoped to save $60 million a year, but a recent upturn in revenue has put proposed cuts on hold. That is positive news for Massachusetts because the impact of the proposed cuts would have been staggering. The Massachusetts Medicaid program provides dental services to more than 1 million of the state's low-income seniors, chronically ill, and people with disabilities. That is almost one in ten of the state's neediest residents.

There's a great misconception that dental care is not one of the essential types of health care that people need. Not true. Dental care is critical to everyone’s good health and wellbeing. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Dietetic Association, a variety of medical conditions – such as diabetes, heart disease, HIV, and complications of pregnancy—have been associated with poor oral health.

When states are forced to make cuts in Medicaid-sponsored dental programs, there are consequences. One is an increase in the numbers of patients with illnesses that could have easily been prevented. Fixing a chipped tooth right away, or filling a cavity when it is small is simpler, less painful, and less costly than waiting for the issue to escalate to a larger, more complicated dental infection. A second consequence is an increase in emergency room and other triage costs -- which taxpayers ultimately pay for -- as patients desperate to relieve mouth pain are left with no other options for care. When an individual visits the emergency room because of mouth pain, the pain may be addressed, but the cause of the problem is often not treated. This leaves the patient vulnerable to more severe problems, which ultimately become more costly to treat.

These are facts. Dental disease is nearly 100% preventable. Dental benefits help people get the care they need in good times and in tough times. Making sure dental care is an essential benefit in state Medicaid programs makes good sense.

Guest Blog Post by Steve Pollock, President of DentaQuest Government Business

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is Anyone Listening?

Sometimes, at the end of the day, I wish I believed that there was a single politician in Washington who wanted to understand dental insurance.

I am a dentist. And, for the past 20 years, I have been chief dental officer, first for a medical insurance carrier and now, for a dental insurance carrier. One of the reasons I was attracted to my current position is the singular mission of this organization to improve the oral health of the residents in the regions we serve through dental benefits, through research into better ways to deliver care, and through philanthropy that extends oral health services to underserved groups. When your one and only focus is dental benefits, you want your offering to be the best – in prevention services and in reimbursement for dental work when it is needed.

With half of all dental payments being made by insurance companies, many of the improvements in the care you receive at your dentist are made possible thanks to forward thinking dental carriers. Do you have children? Dental carriers led the way with coverage for sealants and fluoride treatments because they help prevent cavities. Have gum disease? Dental carriers paved the way for multiple cleanings and screenings each year. Other innovations? How about coverage for brush biopsies, localized antimicrobials that halt gingivitis in adults, risk-based care and benefits, disease management programs, oral health report cards, and prevention-focused care.

For medical carriers, dental is a plan enhancement, an add-on commodity that can be downsized, restructured, or even eliminated when the carrier needs to meet bottom line demands. Medical plans don’t innovate in the area of dental services, and only sometimes do they watch dental carriers closely and copy new benefits that are popular and financially advantageous. Medical carriers often use the same customer service staff to respond to medical and dental calls, which may leave the caller wondering if the customer service representative understood their questions about tooth decay and gum disease.

So I am concerned that one of the current health reform bills under consideration advocates bundling essential dental services for children into medical plans offered under the Exchanges. And I am concerned that none of the bills include dental benefits for adults. It’s a bad idea to separate children’s coverage from their parents. If parents don’t see a dentist because they don’t have dental insurance, then chances of their children seeing a dentist drop significantly. Keeping standalone dental carriers among the options on the Exchanges makes sure cost effective and prevention-focused innovations in dental benefits will continue. That is the kind of innovation that makes care more efficient and keeps health care costs under control. Without proper support for oral health, current health reform proposals may actually undermine the progress we are making as a nation toward improved oral health and add new barriers to care for the individuals and families that this reform legislation is intended to help. Good oral health is critical for the entire family—parents and children alike.