In a recent Boston Globe piece, former CMS Administrator Donald M. Berwick, MD called for expanded access to dental care, which he characterized as a critical aspect of health care that is out of reach for many.
People with low incomes, people with disabilities, and older Americans all have difficulty accessing routine, preventive, and medically essential oral health care. Dr. Berwick points out that tooth decay "does not make headlines, but the downstream consequences of poor dental care are severe, such as poor nutrition, serious infections, degraded school performance, and acute and chronic pain." Many expensive visits to the emergency room for oral health problems could have been prevented with regular oral health care. Further, many nursing home residents have untreated dental decay.
Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the routine oral health care that can prevent serious issues. Even claims for medically urgent oral health care and dental procedures, which should be covered under current Medicare law, are often denied. The Center for Medicare Advocacy urges policy-makers to advance access to this important but often overlooked form of health care, in general, and in Medicare in particular.