Data: CHIP dental coverage lowers costs

By the CDHP team

Dr. Paul O. Walker, DDS, MS is vice president of clinical quality at Kool Smiles, a national children’s dental provider dedicated to increasing access to quality, affordable dental care in underserved communities. Kool Smiles shares children’s dental health policy news on Twitter at @Kool_Smiles.

With funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) set to expire this September, children’s dental health advocates across the country are sounding the alarm that by cutting off patient access to CHIP, lawmakers are putting the dental health of American children at risk.

At Kool Smiles, we’ve seen the benefits of CHIP first hand. Many of the young patients who come through our doors rely on CHIP for their dental coverage, which includes oral exams, emergency visits, X-rays, and fillings at little or no cost.

We know that access to a dentist at an early age can have a profound impact on a child’s overall health and wellbeing, but how can we demonstrate the improved outcomes for CHIP patients specifically?

To see if we could help answer this question, Kool Smiles recently ran an internal analysis of our CHIP pediatric dental patients who had visited a Kool Smiles dentist prior to their 4th birthday, compared to Kool Smiles patients who had not seen a dentist before their 4th birthday. We conducted this analysis using data from Mississippi and Texas where the CHIP program is administered separately. The results were telling. Among CHIP-enrolled children ages 4 to 8 with a dental visit before their 4th birthday:

  • Restorative costs were 30% lower than for their peers
  • Extraction costs were 65% lower than for their peers
  • Perhaps most importantly, these CHIP-enrolled children who had a dental visit before age 4 had 34% fewer restorative and extraction procedures than their peers

As our internal data demonstrate, CHIP patients who see the dentist at an early age require less overall dental work.  The result?  Healthy mouths, happy smiles and lower overall health costs.

Neglect is expensive and prevention is worth every penny.

Early oral health intervention and prevention are key elements of the CHIP program, and as our analysis demonstrates, CHIP dental coverage can help lower health costs in the long run. Neglect is expensive and prevention is worth every penny.  This is a message we must continue to send to our lawmakers as we urge them to continue funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program this year.

Note:  This analysis of treatment costs is from 2009 through the first half of 2014.  The data may underestimate the gap between dental costs for CHIP-enrolled children and other kids because a child who went to another (non-Kool Smiles) dentist before their 4th birthday was included in the “without a visit” group.

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