What Medicaid's Dental Coverage Expansion Could Mean for Your Dental Health


Dental health is vital to overall health and wellness. Dental issues have been linked to chronic diseases like diabetes and, when untreated, can lead to costly emergency room visits. Yet many low-income adults across the U.S. lack access to proper dental care.

Medicaid requires children and youths to receive dental care, but it doesn’t require the same care for adults. Instead, states choose on their own whether or not to provide dental coverage for adults. While most states cover dental emergencies, many still don’t offer comprehensive care, such as regular cleanings and preventative services.

Virginia is the latest state to offer such expanded coverage, giving 750,000 Medicaid members access to comprehensive dental benefits for the first time. This new development could further prove the universal advantages of proper dental care and inspire other states to expand their offerings.

Here, we’ll break down what’s included in this dental expansion and how accessible, quality dental insurance can contribute to improved overall health and care costs.

What is covered under Medicaid’s dental expansion?

Each state dictates the scope of its dental coverage for adults. As of July 1, 2021, Virginia’s expanded dental coverage includes:

  • Routine cleanings
  • Preventative care
  • X-rays and examinations
  • Fillings
  • Dentures
  • Root canals
  • Gum-related treatments
  • Oral surgeries

These types of services are currently covered by roughly 30 states. Forty-two states cover oral surgeries, but six of those only cover them in emergency cases.

How can expanded dental coverage improve your health?

Expanded dental coverage has universal benefits for individuals and health care systems as a whole. Better oral health can contribute to improved communication, increased employability, and less money spent on emergency services.

With expanded dental care, adults covered by Medicaid can:

Access preventative services

Health insurance usually covers preventative services. Without supplementary dental insurance, however, preventative dental care isn’t often included. Without preventative care, many people don’t have the resources to stop dental issues from occurring or getting worse. According to the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS), 44% of low-income adults have untreated tooth decay.

Even if someone knows they have a problem, they may not have the money to get it fixed. So they wait until it becomes an emergency, and then they have to get an extraction or merely pain relief medicine, which doesn’t actually address the root of the problem. In fact, the U.S. spends $2 billion each year on dental emergencies, 80% of which could’ve been avoided with proper preventative care.

With preventive care, people can improve their dental wellness, and save time and money in the process. According to a 2020 study by Health Services Research, in states with dental coverage, dental emergency visits decreased by over 14%.

Control chronic diseases

Poor dental health has been linked to other issues such as heart disease, gum disease, diabetes, and premature births. With proper dental benefits, people can reduce the risk of developing life-threatening, chronic conditions.

Take advantage of regular dental care

Comprehensive coverage can motivate people to take advantage of regular dental care services, such as routine cleanings. As a result, people may have an easier time eating, communicating, and even entering the workforce. As the American Dental Association reported, six out of 10 low-income adults without Medicaid dental coverage said bad teeth prevented them from getting a job or going on interviews.

After Michigan offered expanded dental coverage through Medicaid, 60% of enrollees had visited a dentist at least once in a year or two, according to a study from the University of Michigan found that. Of those people, 57% said their oral health had improved in that time. Over 75% of those who had jobs also said their coverage helped them improve their performance at work.

These findings can help more people understand the overwhelming benefits of expanded dental coverage and prompt more state Medicaid programs to improve dental benefits for its enrollees.

Source: iQuanti, Inc.

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