MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Anyone who has had an infected tooth, a root canal or their wisdom teeth pulled might have wondered what Darlene from LeCenter asked us earlier this week: Why isn’t dental work covered under most health care plans?

“It goes back a long way,” said Stephen Parente, a professor of health finance at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Dental insurance isn’t cheap. Benefits have been going up and up for the last 30 years so. Dental insurance, which used to be covered in the way you’d think, has been stripped down.”

Parente says it comes down to cost priorities. Decades ago, dental work wasn’t quite as expensive and more likely to be covered.

“But as dentistry became more advanced and the costs became higher, it became more of a challenge to include it,” Parente said.

Year-over-year inflation for dental costs runs at 9 percent.

Up to 85 percent of Americans have health insurance. The National Association of Dental Plans says only 60 percent of Americans have dental coverage.

“Most times it is a question of whether the employer can afford to give it to you as an additional benefit package or not,” Parente said. “And, if they can’t, then it’s up to you to finance it yourself.”

Most dental plans cover the very basic cleanings and filings, more like a pre-payment plan for preventative care. Anything much more advanced would cost employers much more.

In the early Affordable Care Act debates, President Barack Obama considered including dental care as a requirement, but ultimately they ended up with only children’s dental care being considered essential. In most cases, Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental either.


Heather Brown

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