By Dr. Cary Sun, chief dental officer, Cigna Healthcare and Jamie Romero, vice president of account management, Cigna Healthcare Arizona
With the COVID-19 public health emergency ending, many of us are finally getting caught up on the long list of preventive care visits we’ve missed the past few years. As we schedule our annual physicals, cancer screenings, required vaccinations and the like, let’s not forget about another critical part of our overall health that gets neglected all too often: dental care.
In fact, a recent study from the National Library of Medicine revealed that nearly half of American adults postponed their scheduled dental visits during the pandemic. Even prior to the public health emergency, at least one-third of U.S. adults didn’t see their dentist annually.
With the holidays upon us – and all the goodies and treats that come with this time of year – now is a great time to make a visit to your local dentist if it’s been a while since you’ve seen one. If you have dental insurance, you may even have benefits that you must use before the end of the year, or you will lose them.
Brushing off your dental care can have serious implications for your health and wellness. Forgoing recommended teeth cleanings can lead to gingivitis, gum disease and cavities. This can also escalate into bigger problems, like the need for root canals and crowns, or tooth loss.
Even with dental insurance, these extensive types of treatments can amount to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses for consumers, compared to little or no out-of-pocket expense for preventive care such as exams and cleanings. A recent study found that high out-of-pocket costs are the top reason people delay their dental care – a good reason to see the dentist sooner rather than later.
Studies have also shown that oral health can have connections to our overall health, including an impact on cardiovascular health. Research points to a link between gum disease and inflammation that can come before heart attacks, strokes and sudden vascular events, according to Penn Medicine.
With all this in mind, take the time to look closely at your dental plan to see what benefits are available to you. If you have a comprehensive plan through your job, you may have coverage for care such as exams and cleanings, but also for more necessary treatments like crowns, root canals, gum therapy, extractions and orthodontics (braces).
If you are between jobs or self-employed and are in need of a dental plan, there are many online tools that can help you comparison shop for affordable options, as well as brokers who can help you purchase an individual dental plan. Dental plans can be purchased year-round. You can also contact insurers directly to learn more about their dental options for individuals.
Finally, if you are simply afraid to see a dentist – which millions of Americans are – there are plenty of ways to address that, too. Many dentists go out of their way to accommodate fearful patients, offering headphones, sunglasses and other items to soothe anxieties. There are also new approaches, such as teledentistry, that allow you to see a dentist at home through imaging and communication technologies. This form of dentistry doesn’t replace the in-person routine care and therapies you may need, but can help allay dental fears.
If you have a dental plan through Cigna Healthcare, Cigna Dental Virtual Care is available through our partnership with dental.com, which provides a nationwide network of on-call, in-network dentists available 24/7 year-round. Using this platform, Cigna Healthcare customers can get a video consultation, and licensed dentists can triage urgent situations such as pain, infection, and swelling. If necessary, the dentist can prescribe medications including antibiotics and non-narcotic pain relievers.
Cigna Dental customers can also use their smartphones to screen for potential oral health issues at no cost. These screenings are powered through our partnership with dental.com, which provides a new technology called SmartScan. The tool provides step-by-step instructions to help a customer take guided photos of their teeth and mouth. While not a replacement for an in-person dental examination, SmartScan analyzes the photos and informs customers of any potential dental issues such as plaque buildup, possible cavities or tooth damage so that they can seek the dental care needed.
Today is the day to take control of your oral health. Innovations in dental care are making it easier than ever, and regular checkups provide peace of mind. Most importantly, routine dental care allows you to catch the little problems before they become major, painful – and expensive – ones.