Head to the dentist for healthy smiles, healthy bodies and lower health care costs.
It’s not a new concept, but the correlation has been bolstered by the findings of a new report conducted by Dauphin County-based United Concordia Dental.
“Our newest study revealed a substantial correlation between preventive dental care compliance and medical claims costs,” said Dr. James Bramson, United Concordia’s chief dental officer.
The savings could be more than $200 per adult per year in some cases — a figure that United Concordia officials say can add up significantly for operators of group plans.
United Concordia Cos. Inc., whose headquarters are in Susquehanna Township, is a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based insurer Highmark Inc. Together, the companies employ about 3,500 people in the midstate.
The study, called “The value of going to the dentist,” looked at members ages 4 through 64 who had both medical and dental coverage.
That differs from previous research, Bramson noted, which had focused on the benefits for people with diabetes, heart disease and other ongoing ailments.
“Our new research looks at the value of regular dental checkups—not only for those with chronic conditions, but for everyone covered under a dental plan,” he said.
Using data compiled from more than 489,000 United Concordia and Highmark members over a three-year period, the research revealed that participants who visited the dentist routinely — two check-ups a year that include an oral evaluation, and a cleaning or periodontal maintenance for three consecutive years — had better overall health, as indicated by their respective medical cost savings.
“By analyzing a cross-section of covered individuals, we have uncovered significant medical savings associated with those who receive preventive dental care twice a year,” Bramson said.
Researchers’ findings on savings included:
• Patients of all ages who visited the dentist routinely for three consecutive years realized savings of $68 per person per year versus those who don’t visit the dentist at all.
• Those of all ages who visit a dentist routinely saw yearly savings of $157 over those who visited intermittently.
• Young children and teens (ages 4-18) who visited routinely saw a savings of $134 each per year.
• Older adults (ages 45-64) realized the most savings: $219 per year over those who did not visit a dentist at all.
At the upper end of that spectrum, Bramson said, the savings can cover the cost of monthly dental premiums under some programs.
Why would intermittent dental visitors actually experience higher costs than those who don’t go at all? Bramson explained that such patients may also be intermittent or emergency medical patients, so that when they do go to the doctor, dentist or hospital, the intensity of their health problems — and cost of treatment — tend to be higher.
For businesses, the overall lesson, he said, is that encouraging insured employees to seek regular dental care will be beneficial for all concerned, which is why they should treat it as another element in the spectrum of “wellness” programs.
To that end, he said, most of United Concordia’s insured dental plans cover regular check-ups, preventive care and cleanings 100 percent, with no deductible.
“It’s as important as a gym membership, and a lot of the other things that companies do” to promote overall employee wellness, Bramson added.