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MassHealth Dental Benefits Bill Advances; WS Journal Explains Why

MassHealth Dental Benefits Bill Advances; WS Journal Explains Why

December 28, 2011

Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce logoLast week the legislature's Joint Committee on Public Health gave its approval to S. 1079, legislation filed by Senator Harriette Chandler to restore full dental benefits to adults on MassHealth. Some 700,000 adults, including low income seniors, disabled adults, and people with serious chronic disease lost full dental benefits over a year ago.

We thanks the Co-Chairs of the Public Health Committee, Rep. Sanchez and Senator Fargo, for supporting advancement of this bill. The bill moves to the Health Care Financing Committee.

HCFA's Oral Health Advocacy Task Force - OHAT and many other groups will be working hard to restore dental benefits during this year's budget debate. OHAT will be arguing that oral health is critical to overall health, and that cutting dental benefits results in worse (and more expensive) health outcomes, far beyond the teeth and mouth.

Coincidentally, today's Wall Street Journal goes into detail on the medical evidence linking good dental care with overall health:

The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the mouth provides an even better view of the body as a whole.

Some of the earliest signs of diabetes, cancer, pregnancy, immune disorders, hormone imbalances and drug issues show up in the gums, teeth and tongue — sometimes long before a patient knows anything is wrong.

There's also growing evidence that oral health problems, particularly gum disease, can harm a patient's general health as well, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, pneumonia and pregnancy complications.

"We have lots of data showing a direct correlation between inflammation in the mouth and inflammation in the body," says Anthony Iacopino, director of the International Centre for Oral-Systemic Health, which opened at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry in Canada in 2008. Recent studies also show that treating gum disease improves circulation, reduces inflammation and can even reduce the need for insulin in people with diabetes.

....An estimated six million Americans have diabetes but don't know it — and several studies suggest that dentists could help alert them. A 2009 study from New York University found that 93% of people who have periodontal disease are at risk for diabetes, according to the criteria established by American Diabetes Association. ...

There's also growing evidence that the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular problems isn't a coincidence either. Inflammation in the gums raises C-reactive protein, thought to be a culprit in heart disease.

"They've found oral bacteria in the plaques that block arteries. It's moved from a casual relationship to a risk factor," says Mark Wolff, chairman of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care at NYU College of Dentistry.

The OHAT campaign needs your help. People who are interested in joining the campaign should contact Courtney Chelo, at cchelo@hcfama.org.
-Brian Rosman