- New research links regular dental visits with lowered healthcare costs.
- The study specifically analyzed patients with diabetes and heart disease.
- Dentists stress the importance of regular dental care for your overall health.
New research is linking routine dental care with lower healthcare costs for people with diabetes and heart disease.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic and published in the journal Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, analyzed the records of 11,734 adults who had diabetes, coronary artery disease, or both. These participants were also enrolled in a commercial health plan in Arkansas that provided preventive dental care coverage.
The researchers analyzed patients who had four and five years of continuous enrollment in the health plan (between 2014 and 2018) and compared healthcare costs of people who had at least one preventive dental visit for each year they were enrolled, compared to those who didn’t get dental care at all.
Overall, the researchers found that the average annual cost savings for patients who got dental care at least once a year (compared to those who didn’t) was $549 for those with diabetes, $548 for those with coronary artery disease, and $866 for patients with both conditions.
The cost savings, the researchers noted in the study, happened because people didn’t need to seek serious medical care.
“Most of these savings originated in costs associated with inpatient [hospital] admissions, which were between 25% and 36% for all disease classifications for all years,” the researchers wrote.
There are limitations to the study—namely, that the researchers used records from insurance claims and costs rather than comprehensive clinical records. But there is a clear link.
Lead study author Bijan J. Borah, PhD, professor of health services research at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine & Science, told Verywell that he and his team decided to study this topic because dental care is often underutilized due to cost.
“Since cost often poses access barrier to dental or other health care, the aim of the study was to evaluate how adherence to preventive dental visits among diabetes or coronary artery disease patients were associated with overall healthcare costs,” he said.
But, he said, dental care seems to be linked with better overall health—and more cost savings.
“Besides better oral health outcomes, regular preventive dental visits are associated with better overall health outcomes among patients with diabetes and coronary artery disease, resulting in significant savings in healthcare costs,” Borah said.
Why Might Dental Health Be Linked to Overall Healthcare Costs?
The researchers didn’t study why there was an association between good dental health and lowered overall healthcare costs, but experts say the findings are not surprising.
“The oral cavity is the gateway to your overall systemic health. Therefore, it’s no surprise that preventive dental care can reduce healthcare costs in other areas, most prominently in patients with diabetes and heart disease,” Julie Cho, DMD, a general dentist in New York City, told Verywell.
Diabetes is a major risk factor for periodontal disease, she noted.
“Diabetes medications have proven to cause dry mouth,” Cho explained. “The reduced salivary flow—one’s natural form of irrigation—in combination with an increase in glucose level creates a perfect condition for bacteria to thrive, produce lactic acid, and cause cavities.”
Because of this, people with diabetes are also more prone to infections and sores, Cho added.
Research has also linked the bacteria found in periodontal disease to that found in heart disease, specifically of streptococci strain, Cho said.
“This can infect the lining of the heart, which can lead to inflammation and ultimately damage to heart valves,” Cho said. “This bacteria can originate from the mouth, whereby it enters the bloodstream and travels to the heart.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also linked good oral health to good overall health, noting online that “oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being, and quality of life.”
But there may be a simple explanation for this link, Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, told Verywell.
“People who take good care of their teeth may be much more likely to take good care of their diabetes and heart, too,” he said. “What we shouldn’t take out of this study is the conclusion that, ‘I have diabetes, I’m going to get my teeth cleaned, and my diabetes is going to go away or magically get better.’”
What Should People Take Away From These Findings?
Borah said that researchers are unable to say for sure that good oral health will reduce overall healthcare costs based on the design of the study.
“Since it was not a randomized control trial, our study design did not allow evaluation of causality—that is, whether preventive dental visit leads to better overall outcomes, which result in lower costs,” he said. “However, the significant savings in overall healthcare costs among diabetes or coronary artery disease patients who made regular preventive dental visits compared to those that did not suggest better health outcomes, specifically in terms of reduced inpatient hospitalizations.”
Wolff stresses the importance of regularly visiting the dentist.
“It helps maintain overall health,” he says. “You can’t be healthy without oral health and oral health does affect multiple things in our lives.”
What This Means For You
Having good oral health and going to regular checkups with your dentist may help improve your overall health. Talk to your dentist about how often you should visit them for peak oral health.