With all the hoopla and platitudes touted by the President and Congressional leadership at the signing of a bitterly debated landmark Health Care Reform plan into the 'Law of the Land' this past week, one important aspect of this healthcare legislation was conspicuously absent- dental care. Claiming to be a "step forward from the inequality that has existed in every American's right to have access to health care" and expanding medical coverage to more than 30 million uninsured in this country, no one has any real idea of the exact cost this will have economically. A more important question should be the impact this will have on the general health of the American public. Providing health care insurance and improving America's health are, indeed, two very different things.
In a major study on 145,000 patients paid for by Aetna Health and performed at Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine published in 2006, it was reported that improving the patient's dental (periodontal) health found up to a 21% reduction in health care costs for patients associated with major systemic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart attack), and cerebrovascular disease (stroke). This same statistic was confirmed again by a similar study performed in Japan. When considering total health care costs, especially related to these major diseases, the impact of the cost savings could easily be in the many billions of dollars.
An avalanche of clinical studies over the past decade have documented the strong connection between dental disease and many major systemic illnesses ranging from Alzheimer's to pancreatic cancer. Periodontal disease, a major source of chronic low grade inflammation which can be ravaging for the body, remains in epidemic incidence among adult Americans with statistics ranging over 80% for those over 30 years old. Yet access to dentistry, and the important preventative role this plays in total body wellness, has not been addressed. Instead, what has is the semantics of a huge expansion of Medicare and the role of government in the medical insurance business. In my opinion, an important opportunity to proactively address real health care reform may have been missed and we may have only treated a symptom, but not the cause of our country's health care malaise.
Dr. Gerald P. Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to