|Our health system is broken. Oral health is directly linked to overall health in countless ways. And while most people understand the need for comprehensive care, more than 74 million Americans don’t have access to dental coverage — nearly three times the number of people who are medically uninsured. For too long, socioeconomic barriers and racial inequalities have contributed to this broad lack of dental coverage. Today, for example, 43 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack access to dental care. And too many states still do not include an adult dental benefit in Medicaid or offer only very limited coverage.
The reality is that oral health is not a luxury or a perk — it is an essential component of our overall health that we can’t afford to silo from the rest of the health care system. The cost is simply too high. Individuals without dental insurance are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. They are more likely to visit emergency departments for dental care, where dental services cost more for both the individual and the health system. And the costs of chronic diseases, like diabetes, linked to oral health care are staggering.
Changing these statistics and realities requires more than just expanding dental coverage. It requires expanding access and affordability, having a greater focus on preventing dental disease and prioritizing value over volume. It requires transforming our oral care and health care systems.