tags on every page of your site. -->
Oct 20, 2023
Brushing off dental care can be costly

Quick Take

  • Regular dental care is important for good oral health as well as overall health
  • Benefit plans can help alleviate out of pocket costs
  • The SmartScan app can provide a preliminary oral health assessment using a smartphone

Everyone knows they should see their dentist for regular checkups and cleanings to keep their teeth healthy and strong. However, nearly half of U.S. adults put off their scheduled visits during the recent pandemic. Data from 4,600-plus Cigna Healthcare customers who had recently used virtual dental services revealed that nearly one-fifth (17%) of them had not seen a dentist in at least 3 years.

Even before COVID-19, at least one-third of American adults skipped seeing the dentist each year. One study found that high out-of-pocket costs are the top reason people delay their dental care.

“Aside from poor oral health, missing regular checkups means failing to catch any dental health issues as early as possible, before they can escalate into more serious problems, and higher treatment costs,” said Dr. Cary Sun, chief dental officer of Cigna Healthcare. He explained that cavities left untreated can quickly lead to root canals and crowns, or loss of teeth and need for implants. The extra plaque and tartar buildup that results from foregoing dental cleanings can lead to gum disease or periodontitis, which can impact the gums and bones that hold teeth in place.

Regular dental maintenance goes beyond oral health to make positive impacts on an individual’s overall health, as well as health care costs. During a routine exam, a dentist can often detect the first signs of an underlying health condition such as diabetes, leukemia, or heart disease, at a time when they would be less complex and less expensive to treat. A recent Cigna Healthcare study showed, on average, those who receive consistent preventive dental care have 22% fewer emergency room and urgent care visits than those who don’t, which contributes to a 4.4% savings in total medical costs per person per year. For those with diabetes, the savings are even higher – an average of 12.25% per year.

Benefit plans help alleviate dental costs

Dental benefit plans can be extremely helpful in addressing the costs that make people defer their dentist visits. Many Cigna plans, for example, can completely cover routine dental check-ups, including cleanings and X-rays, as well as a good portion of the costs for other dental treatment. He added that health and flexible savings accounts can also be used for copays and other out-of-pocket dental expenses.

Convenient dental screenings via phone

Cigna Healthcare dental plan members can get a sense of their oral health using their smartphone. With SmartScan, members only need to take and submit five photos of their teeth for an initial oral health assessment. SmartScan analyzes the photos and informs plan members of any potential dental issues such as plaque buildup, possible cavities, or tooth damage. Members can also set up a virtual dental appointment to review results, answer questions, and discuss any treatment options with a Cigna Healthcare network dentist.

While not a replacement for an in-person dental examination, SmartScan can help members identify any potential problems that may have occurred since their last dentist visit. “It’s a convenient first step for people to get back on track to maintain their oral health,” Dr. Sun said.

woman at the dentist

A healthy mouth is as important as a healthy body

When you care for your teeth, your whole body benefits. Learn more about dental care and other oral health topics.

Learn more