Will Health Care Reform Result in More Dental Visits

An interesting article titled “Health care reform brings new opportunities,” appears in the April 2014 edition of JADA written by Marko Vujicic (vol. 145, no. 4, pp. 381-382). The article discusses how health care reform in the U.S., specifically the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may help bring about new opportunities for dentists.

The article opens by discussing how the U.S. spends more money on health care than any other developed country and there is little measurable benefit in terms of health outcomes, patient satisfaction, and access to care. The author discusses how ACA is expected to bring access to dental care to an additional 8.7 million children by 2018. The author discusses how the focus is on implementing new health care delivery models and payment mechanisms that focus on value and not volume of care.

The author believes that due to the health reform developments, dentists should expect to have more collaboration with other health care professionals. This is because of the changing payment mechanisms which will push hospital groups to engage with many different health care professionals. As such dentists can be expected to play a bigger role in the screening and management of chronic diseases. The author states

“What is new, however—and this is vital to understand—is that the health care system is changing to incentivize such collaboration. Health care reform is offering up the chance to reexamine and potentially redefine the role of the dentist within the health care system.”

The author also discusses some statistics and presents a figure showing the percentage of visits to a dentist and the percentage of visits to a physician without seeing the other for various age groups. Around 35% of the U.S. sees a physician but does not see a dentist during the year. This percentage is even higher for young children between ages 1 and 4 where it is 60%. Around 9% of the U.S. sees a dentist during the year but not a physician. Since nearly 1 out of 10 Americans see a dentist during the year but not a physician a dentist can play a large role in aiding in the health of their patients.

The data also shows that starting at age 5 to age 65+ the percentage of those who see a dentist but not a physician is higher for those younger (age 5) and then over time (to age 65+) decreases. This is what one would expect (at least I would) as younger individuals tend to be healthy but still should be seeing a dentist regularly. As one gets older it would expected that they would likely see a physician more often.

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