According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 54 percent of babies born in Arizona are born to mothers covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, the state’s government insurance program for low-income individuals. It’s likely those mothers failed to receive dental care during their pregnancy, even if it was needed, because AHCCCS provides limited dental benefits. So limited in fact, that adult coverage is $1,000 per year for only emergency dental care.
But SB1088 can change that. The bill would expand AHCCCS covered services to include comprehensive dental coverage during pregnancy and appropriate the required state match funding. Providing dental coverage in AHCCCS benefits removes a key barrier to care – cost – and it is severely
Oral health during pregnancy is critical. Hormonal changes and pregnancy cravings can worsen dental health, leading to cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues. Left untreated, these issues can have serious implications on the health of the baby. Severe gum disease has been associated to poor pregnancy outcomes, including pre-term birth and low birth rate. Women who have a lot of cavity-causing bacteria during pregnancy and after delivery could also transmit these bacteria to their baby.
Expanding access to oral health coverage for expectant mothers isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes sense financially. The average cost for AHCCCS to care for a premature baby can land between $22,000 and $67,000. Eliminating the expectant mother’s oral health as a risk factor could go a long way in reducing the likelihood of premature birth.
Providing expectant mothers access to dental care also gives dentists the opportunity to educate them about proper hygiene for themselves and for their children. If mothers understand the importance of good oral health, they’ll be more likely to pass along good oral health habits to their children.
Delta Dental of Arizona, through its Foundation, is proud to work alongside and support nonprofit organizations and community health centers that focus on providing free or reduced cost dental services to expectant mothers. Partners like Maggie’s Place, Mountain Park Community Health Center, and Marana Health Care have always ensured that pregnant mothers had access to the services they needed to set them on a course for a healthy pregnancy and overall oral health.
Unfortunately, the funding to support SB1088 is missing from initial budget proposals. Officials estimate we need $178,900 from the general fund plus $478,300 in federal Medicaid dollars to fund the program. While not an insignificant amount, the public health implications of failing to provide expectant mothers with dental coverage have a far greater cost. This is why I encourage the legislature to include funding for SB1088 in the final budget.
For more than 45 years, Delta Dental of Arizona has made it a mission to improve lives by promoting optimal oral health. This bill will give pregnant mothers access to the oral health care they need and allow local nonprofits to shift their focus and serve other groups in need. Overall, this is leading the way to a healthier Arizona.
Allan Allford is president/CEO of Delta Dental of Arizona, the top dental insurance company in the state, and president of the 501(c)3 Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation
Editor’s note: This commentary has been updated to reflect a change in the amount of money needed.