When we talk about the successes and shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and health care in the US in general — little attention is given to dental care.
While the ACA defines dental coverage as an essential benefit for those under 18, insurers aren’t required to offer dental coverage for adults. Medicare, the nation’s largest insurer, doesn’t cover routine dental work. And coverage for adults through Medicaid varies from state to state.
It is estimated that 108 million Americans have no dental insurance, and that one in four nonelderly Americans has untreated tooth decay.
Oral health isn’t just about nice teeth. As the surgeon general noted in a 2000 report, oral health is intimately connected to general health and can be implicated in or exacerbate diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and complications during pregnancy.
The absence of comprehensive dental care exacts a toll on millions of Americans in terms of poor health, pain and the social stigma associated with bad teeth.