When scheduling annual physicals, screenings, vaccinations and other preventive care, don’t forget about another critical part of overall health that gets neglected all too often: dental care.
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.
“Now is a great time to schedule an appointment with your dentist,” says Dr. Cary Sun, chief dental officer, Cigna Healthcare. “Brushing off dental care can have serious implications for your health and wellness. Even 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 or crowns, or even tooth loss.”
Even with dental insurance, extensive treatments can amount to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses, 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 dental care – a good reason to see the dentist for an annual checkup sooner rather than later.
Studies also show that oral health has connections to overall health, including an impact on cardiovascular health. Research links gum disease to inflammation that can come before heart attacks, strokes and sudden vascular events, according to Penn Medicine.
With all this in mind, review your dental plan for available benefits. Don’t have dental insurance? Dental plans can be purchased year-round and there are many affordable options. If you have a comprehensive plan through your job, it may cover care such as exams and cleanings, and other 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, online tools can help you comparison shop, and brokers can help you purchase an individual dental plan. You can also contact insurers directly to learn more about their options for individuals.
Finally, if you are afraid to see a dentist – which millions of Americans are – there are plenty of ways to address that, too. Many dentists 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 doesn’t replace in-person care, but can help allay dental fears.
For those with dental plans through Cigna Healthcare, Cigna Dental Virtual Care is available through its partnership with dental.com, which provides a nationwide network of on-call, in-network dentists 24/7. Using this platform, Cigna Healthcare customers can get a video consultation, and licensed dentists can triage urgent situations such as pain, infection and swelling, and prescribe medications including antibiotics and non-narcotic pain relievers.
Cigna Dental customers can also use their smartphones to screen for potential oral health issues anytime and at no cost. Powered through its dental.com partnership, a new technology called SmartScan provides step-by-step instructions to help patients take guided photos of their teeth and mouth. While not a replacement for an in-person dental examination, SmartScan analyzes the photos to identify potential issues such as plaque buildup, possible cavities or tooth damage.
More information is available at cigna.com and cignadental.com.
“It’s a perfect time to take control of your oral health. Innovations in dental care make it easier than ever to gain peace of mind from a checkup, or to catch the little problems before they become major, painful and expensive ones,” says Dr. Sun.
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