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How Regular Dental Visits Can Help Reduce Health Care Costs for People With Diabetes and Heart Disease

he benefits of getting your teeth cleaned go beyond dental care. Regular cleanings also appear to help prevent more significant and costly health challenges for those with diabetes and coronary artery disease, according to new research from the Mayo Clinic.

The study, published in Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, researched how preventative oral care impacts the costs associated with care related to diabetes and coronary artery disease. The findings showed that regular dental cleanings and exams translate into significant savings in overall health care costs. 

"Besides better oral outcome, regular preventive dental visits are associated with better health outcomes among patients with diabetes and chronic artery disease, resulting in significant savings in health care costs," lead investigator Bijan Borah, PhD, a health services researcher at Mayo Clinic told Health.

Interestingly, cost is one of the primary reasons people avoid going to the dentist, as many health insurance plans do not include dental coverage.

Here's a closer look at the ramifications of the study for your health and your finances.

Because previous research has associated periodontal disease—an infection in the gums, or the tissues that hold your teeth together—with other medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity, the Mayo Clinic research team set out to evaluate how regular, preventive dental care might impact overall health care costs.

The question is particularly relevant as ​​past research suggests that the bacteria behind gum disease can travel throughout the body, triggering systemic inflammation. In addition, poor oral health has been linked to numerous health conditions. Beyond diabetes and heart disease, a relationship has been established between poor oral health and pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease and even cancer.

The irony of this connection is that cost is quite often a barrier to dental care and most insurance plans, including Medicare, do not include dental care. As a result, many people avoid regular teeth cleanings and exams. But a healthier mouth has been linked to less hospitalizations, and consequently, reduced expenditures.

To examine the question of health care costs, Mayo researchers recruited 11,734 people who had either diabetes or coronary artery disease, or both conditions. Participants were enrolled in a health care plan in Arkansas that included dental care coverage. The participants were enrolled in the plan for at least a year between 2014 and 2018.

The team compared the total health care costs — specifically, claims for inpatient and outpatient care and prescription medication costs — of those who had gone to at least one preventive dental visit to those who did not receive any preventive dental care.

by Julia Ries

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