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Preventive dental visits may not reduce dental costs for children

By Dental Tribune International
May 30, 2013

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., USA: Although preventive dental visits are considered important for good oral health, relatively little is known about whether they actually reduce the number of subsequent dental visits or costs. Now, a U.S. study has suggested that preventive dental visits do not lower the costs for restorative procedures. In fact, expenditure was higher among parents of children with more preventive visits.

In order to assess the effectiveness of preventive dental care, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham studied the medical history of almost 15,000 children under the age of 8 and about 22,000 older children with regard to preventive dental visits.

The researchers found that having a greater number of preventive visits was associated with needing a fewer number of subsequent nonpreventive dental visits and lower nonpreventive dental expenditure for both age groups. However, having more preventive visits did not reduce overall dental or medical expenditure because the savings did not sufficiently cover the cost of the preventive visits. For instance, they observed that when children had one preventive dental visit, the cost of the subsequent nonpreventive visit amounted to about $26. However, the saving on the cost of the nonpreventive visit was not enough to offset the cost of the preventive visit. Overall, the spending was actually $91 more.

In the light of these findings, lead author Dr. Bisakha Sen, an associate professor at the university's School of Public Health, cautioned that the findings should not be interpreted in financial terms only. "Preventive visits may reduce pain and discomfort due to oral health problems," she said.

The children in this study were enrolled for at least three years between 1998 and 2010 in the ALL Kids program, the Children's Health Insurance Program in Alabama that offers low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage for children under the age of 19.

The study, titled "Effectiveness of Preventive Dental Visits in Reducing Nonpreventive Dental Visits and Expenditures," was conducted in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health. It was published online on May 27 in the Pediatrics journal ahead of print.

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