Also known as “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act has nearly 1,000 pages of provisions. What you won’t find in there is care for adult teeth — but dentists say there are still plenty of ways you can seek preventive care.

By Rachel Nall | Medically reviewed by Nicole Holland, DDS, MS

Think of it as healthcare’s top 10: the Affordable Care Act outlines 10 major categories that eligible individuals can receive when the plan springs into action in 2014. While you may find some biggies such as coverage for hospitalizations included, preventive dental care didn’t make the list for adults. However, pediatric patients will qualify for oral and vision care.

The exclusion of adults isn’t optimal, but caring for kids’ teeth early is a start, says John A. Thompson, DMD, publications editor for the Kentucky Dental Association and a member of the governor-appointed Health Exchange Board for Kentucky.

“The initial drafts of the Affordable Care Act had no dental provisions of any significance,” Dr. Thompson says. “The American Dental Association and its allies argued successfully to have pediatric dental care included in the ACA that was signed into law. From my perspective, this has huge implications for oral health literacy in the future.”

 By emphasizing the importance of dental health early on, healthy children can grow into healthy adults who care for their teeth, he says.

Fitting the Bill

In some ways, it’s not unusual that preventative dental care for adults is not included in the President’s plan. Many Medicare plans do not include preventive dental visits, but instead allow subscribers to add on low-cost supplementary plans. Twenty-two state-run Medicaid programs do not offer dental coverage options or only offer it in emergency situations.

“When Congress was considering healthcare reform legislation, the ADA urged lawmakers to commit to making an investment to improve the oral health of underserved Americans, including improving the dental Medicaid program,” according to a statement issued to Everyday Health from the American Dental Association. “The most important thing Congress could have done – and chose not to do – was to improve the Medicaid program by extending dental coverage to adults and providing the states with a higher level of federal matching funds. As far as oral health goes, Medicaid does not live up to its promise.”

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s most recent 2010 report on dental health coverage, an estimated 35.5 percent of Americans have no dental coverage at all. Those in the “Poor” category whose families had an income less than or equal to 100 percent of the poverty line were the least likely to have dental insurance and least likely to make a trip to the dentist.

All trends considered, there’s an argument for dental health coverage: Letting an untreated minor dental condition progress to a big-time problem can be a major expense for federal health plans and the taxpayers that fund them. A February 28, 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States found more than 830,590 emergency-room visits in 2009 stemmed from preventable dental health conditions. In Florida alone, emergency-room visits for dental issues totaled about $88 million. That’s a lot more than the standard cost for a dental cleaning and x-rays that add up to about $50 to $100 per visit.

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