Why Do We Separate Health Care and Dental Care?

You rely on your medical insurance to treat anything that might go awry with your body – from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. 

Well, everything except what’s inside your mouth, that is.

For millions of Americans, dental care is covered by a completely separate plan or considered an additional and “optional” side dish to your main entrée medical insurance. Dental coverage is not a required benefit for adults under Obamacare or most Medicaid plans. Meanwhile, many typical dental plans don’t cover even regular cleanings at 100%, while cavities and other problems are costly, with or without insurance.

Dental Care as a Luxury

Sadly, a third U.S. residents don’t get regular dental check-ups every year, and one quarter of those surveyed in a recent survey by the Federal Reserve reported they had skipped seeing a dentist due to the expense. Treating dental care as a luxury rather than a basic right creates a socio-economic population of people who suffer common tooth problems that lead to advanced and dangerous complications.

How did the mouth become the black hole of medical insurance? Why do we treat the dentistry industry as a different profession? And is there a disconnect between what goes on in our mouth and what happens throughout the rest of our body?

Haircuts….and Surgery?

Historically, the separation of dentistry and medicine can be traced back to the practices of surgery and less invasive methods of healing. Physicians did not perform surgery, which was seen as a mechanical skill and not as part of the ancient medical arts.

Instead, American barber surgeons – who already had the right tools – performed surgery and extracted teeth, which was a tradition brought over from Europe. Instead of offering their services in hospitals, barber surgeons set up commercial establishments, inviting in surgical and tooth extraction customers with the red and white striped pole – still associated with barbers today.

In 1840, the first dental college was opened in Baltimore, MD, elevating the industry to a trained profession worthy of intense study and licensing. But, that was only after two self-trained dentists appealed to physicians at the college of medicine at the University of Baltimore to add dentistry to the courses of study. When the physicians at the time refused to do so, the separate college was opened and dentistry and medicine continued to remain separate professions.

Dentistry was still a growing field in the 1960’s when Congress put together the first public health insurance programs. The dental market was not valued as highly as other forms of medical care at the time. In fact, in 1960, only 2.3 percent of Americans retained any form of dental insurance.

Dental and medical fields have continued to grow separately from one another, culminating in a landscape of professional independence and autonomy. Yet, a lack of communication and continuity in care between our oral health and the care of other bodily systems can sometimes have disastrous results.

More than 800,000 visits to the ER each year are complications resulting from preventable dental issues, costing the public systems billions of dollars. Yet, without dentists working in the emergency room, most of those problems remained untreated.

Dental and medical records are also kept separate, even though many illnesses may include symptoms from various parts of the body that should be compared and studies. Infected teeth can spread bacteria across other systems leading to severe consequences up to and including death.

Yet, an integrated approach to dental and medical care is slowly gaining ground. The Affordable Care Act requires providers to offer dental coverage for children. Some universities are building dentistry courses into their nursing, pharmacy and physician assistant programs.

Hopefully this trend continues into the future, acknowledging the importance of a cohesive and comprehensive perspective on oral and overall health.

Healthy bodies start with healthy teeth. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.




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