South Carolina dentists can think back to the time when their Medicaid program was considered exemplary. Recently, however, the program has gone downhill as payments did not keep up with costs, and eventually the program was discontinued.

Now Governor Nikki Haley has proposed that Medicaid adult dental coverage be renewed, with an estimated budget of $35 million to cover 270,000 adults on Medicaid in the state, a cost of roughly $125 per person per year. The proposal is currently before the South Carolina General Assembly, which is likely to vote on it before summer.

Whether you’re on Medicaid or not, this is important because it’s a recognition from our state about the economic and general health significance of dental health.

illustration of a man sitting in a dental chair while a robot works on his teeth

Health Benefits Cited

In discussing her proposal, Gov. Haley didn’t talk about this as a money-saving program for the state, despite the fact that oral health among adults has been in decline, leading to increased emergency room visits for tooth infections. From 2000 to 2008, the number of hospitalizations for abscessed teeth grew by 40% nationwide, driven in part by lack of access to primary oral health care.

Although these hospitalizations are covered by Medicaid and are expensive, Gov. Haley didn’t promote the new program as a cost-saving measure. Instead, she focused on the health benefits, comparing it to a public vaccinations program. In addition, SC Medicaid Director Tony Keck pointed at our larger understanding of oral health, “We need to look at dental services differently than we have in the past. Dental health is increasingly tied to broader physical health beyond just the mouth: heart disease, healthy pregnancies.”

Economic Benefits Crucial as Well

Keck also cited the necessity of having a good smile in terms of employability. He also noted that oral health problems can lead to days missed at work as well as lower productivity because of pain.

People who cannot afford basic preventive care cannot afford restorative dentistry such as dental implants, either. This means that failing to provide preventive oral health care leads to the creation of an underclass whose dentistry makes it very hard for them to get or maintain gainful employment. Investing in preventive care for these individuals may very well yield significant economic gains in the future.

Important Reminders for All of Us

For most of us, the issues in this debate are more important than the ultimate resolution. We need to remember that oral health has effects beyond our teeth, and that maintaining it is a prerequisite for achieving good health. If your mouth’s not healthy, you’re not healthy.

And no matter what your current economic status, a healthy smile is an essential component for moving up. Whether you’re looking for a new job or a promotion, your smile will make a difference.

If you want to maintain your smile or get a new one, please contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today to talk to one of our dentists.