Cigna Report 2

What's keeping patients away from your practice? Sometimes it's fear. How can you change that?

Oct. 29, 2014
Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company released the results of a study that gives some surprising reasons people stay away from the dentist, even though they know their oral health is important.

Why do people with health insurance skip oral health care checkups? Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company wanted answers, and it's answers they got in their recent survey findings, "Key insights into the barriers to preventive dental care."

The top barriers to the regular dental visits are lack of pain, fear and anxiety, and cost. So even though the people surveyed have dental insurance, they still come up with excuses to avoid the dentist, including cost! Also, "I'm not in pain, why should I visit the dentist?" is a frequent excuse. Well, to prevent pain, of course, and that's where dentists can make a big difference – in educating people about the importance of good dental care. Am I singing to the choir? No doubt the entire dental staff has tried to get this point across, and that's why these statistics are a bit surprising. The report suggests that perhaps more primary care physicians can tell their patients to make dental visits a regular occurrence, and why they should make those visits.

Miles Hall, DDS, Cigna Dental’s Chief Clinical Director, said, "Nine out of 10 individuals in the Cigna survey group acknowledge the connection between oral health and medical health. But consumers aren’t taking the next step; they realize there is a connection, but they are not taking action. Among those who don’t get six-month dental checkups, 53% said that their medical health is a critical priority, while only 33% say the same for their oral health. If they truly understood the connection, these should be priorities of equal importance."

Fred Scardellette, vice president of Cigna Dental, said, "The survey found that among infrequent users of dental preventive care, self-reported oral health declines significantly with age. At the same time, the likelihood of skipping an even annual checkup increases. In fact, people ages 45 to 64 are 50% more likely not to visit the dentist at all during the year compared to those ages 26 to 34."

The report states that nine out of 10 people know that oral health is connected to their overall health, but that's as far as their understanding goes. People ages 45 to 64 state that their dental health is only fair to poor, yet they do not regularly visit the dentist for their chronic dental conditions. What?! That just seems like common sense. Almost two-thirds (67%) were more likely to admit their dental conditions are chronic and need serious treatment.

Not surprisingly, as people aged, the percentage of folks reporting excellent to very good dental health dropped – ages 26-34 were at 63%; 35 to 44 at 55%; 45 to 54 at 33%; and 55 to 64 at 31%.

Parents often put their oral health of their children before their own. Here's hoping the children learn the importance of visiting the dentist and continue dental care as they age, unlike many of their parents. Eighty-six percent of people who recently went to the dentist found the care to be valuable and a good use of time, yet they still do not visit the dentist twice a year. Again, I'm shaking my head. But hey, Cigna is just reporting the results, not passing judgment.

"We all have a stake in improving oral health outcomes," said Dr. Hall. "Regular dental care can translate into savings on medical dollars. For example, a 2013 Cigna study of medical and dental claims found an average annual medical savings of $1,300 for people with diabetes who received appropriate periodontal care. Medical savings with regard to other conditions like heart disease were even higher."

Moral of the story? You really can't preach to your patients too much. Maybe your dental team members will be the ones to actually get through to the nine out of 10 people who say they know about the oral-systemic connection, and now they'll actually know what that means.

Click here to read these and other surprising results of "Why People with Dental Insurance Skip Oral Health Checkups."

Meg Kaiser helps coordinate the e-newsletters Dental Assisting Digest, The Dentist-Lab Connection, and DE's Expert Tips and Tricks, and welcomes articles for the Practice Management, Dental Assisting, and Laboratory sections of Follow her on Twitter @mlkaiser.