Dr. Vanessa Benavent: Adult Dental Medicaid Can Help Keep People Out of Emergency Rooms

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Legislation cleared by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law last year required the dental community to study the costs associated with emergency department dental visits and the impact on the state’s Medicaid program.  The Maryland Dental Action Coalition contracted with DentaQuest, a well-known provider of dental analytics, to perform the study, and it was officially presented to the relevant committees in the Maryland General Assembly yesterday.     

None of us in the dental community knew what would come out of the report, but the end result is one of the clearest examples as to why Maryland needs adult dental Medicaid.  What’s refreshing about the study is that it shows how effective emergency department referral programs can make a big difference in the cost to taxpayers.  Many Marylanders treated in emergency rooms can better be taken care of by a dentist in their own office where not only can the pain be treated, but the actual problem can be taken care of.  

The good news is that several Maryland dentists are already showing results with innovative programs that work for Maryland residents.  A program in Western Maryland has shown exceptional results utilizing Community Health Workers and Community Dental Health Coordinators who work with patients and local hospitals to ensure the most appropriate and cost-effective treatment for a person experiencing oral pain. 

The Mountain Health Alliance was created to increase access to affordable, comprehensive, quality healthcare for residents.  Through that, the Allegany Health Right Dental Access Program has provided more than $2 million in dental care to low-income residents.  From 2013-2014, the Western Maryland Health System saw more than a 25 percent decrease in emergency department visits by patients seeking help with dental visits thanks to the Community Dental Health Coordinator who assisted residents in finding appropriate oral health care and educating local providers on the benefits of oral health screenings during primary care settings. 

This is the type of creative and resourceful solution that can work for all of Maryland. We’re looking forward to more progress in reinstating dental Medicaid benefits for adults and seeing healthy Marylanders across our state.

Dr. Vanessa Benavent owns an orofacial pain practice in Howard County and is president of the Maryland State Dental Association.  She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orofacial Pain and a Fellow in the American Academy of Orofacial Pain.  She is also a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.

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