The American Medical System Does Not Prioritize Dental Health Care

Picture this: You’ve just accepted your dream job at the top firm in New York City and you’re presented with their benefits package by HR. The company offers stellar health insurance benefits, but no dental benefits. Instead, they offer unlimited vacation and mental health days, sick leave and maternity leave. But when you ask for dental coverage, they shrug and say that you don’t need it.

Now, as a dentist, I shutter to myself, as I know the true danger of preventing a human being from having affordable dental care. But to the general public, dental health care has been put on the backburner for quite some time. According to HRSA (Human Resources & Services Administration), an estimated 108 million Americans don’t have dental insurance coverage, and 1 in 4 nonelderly Americans has untreated tooth decay.

What’s the saddest part of this continuing phenomenon in modern-day health care? No one talks about the distinct correlation between your oral health and general health—in fact, the surgeon general in 2000 declared that your oral health is intimately connected to general health, if left untreated often leading to diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even pregnancy complications.

So why haven’t employers stressed this? The truth is, we cannot penalize employers with no medical background to make decisions on their behalf, especially when it comes down to expense budgets and what the company is willing to sacrifice for employee comfort. In fact, less than 49% of the American working class receive group health insurance benefits (data provided by Kaiser Family Foundation, 2021), and that could even mean the vast majority have catastrophic plans that cost minimal to the provider but thousands in maximum out-of-pocket contributions to the patient. It’s simple—Americans are left scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthcare that won’t kill you before it helps you.

So what does this do in turn to the patient coming through my office? More often than not, we see out of pocket expenses on our patient’s side, realizing that the little toothache they have could be a short link to the reason their diabetes has spiked. In an effort to seek out ultra-cheap options, the patient may see signs for “$300 implants” sprawled out across the Los Angeles highways, tempting them to cut corners in regards to their own health.

As a dentist, this worries me. We often see patients who have neglected their dental health due to drug use over time, poorly eating, not brushing, or just being too busy with life to care. And we understand, but it’s concerning to see the general public have such a disregard for dental health, when inevitably it stares back at you every morning when you look in the mirror. Our recommendation has always stayed the same—get cleanings every three months like your life depends on it. Just like your annual physical, you don’t want to throw things to the wayside and realize there are major (and costly) issues down the line. When cutting corners as well, realize the severity of gambling your own health and what may happen when you’re retired and don’t have the steady income that you once had.

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