Wednesday, March 20, 2024

New Report Shows How Dental Disparities Impact Veterans’ Productivity and Well-Being


One of my life's regrets is that I never served in the armed forces.  I've got immense respect for those who have and currently do, and because of that, I take a good look at anything affecting our veterans and active service members.  That's why today, I'm posting a new report from the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health that deals with the dental needs of this very deserving group of Americans.

Report Highlights Barriers Veterans Face Accessing Dental Care, Including 85% Who Are Ineligible for Dental Coverage or Care 


March 19, 2024 (Boston, MA) – Veterans across the US face significant challenges in accessing dental care, which influences their overall well-being and productivity, according to a new report by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health and the American Institute of Dental Public Health (AIDPH). The report finds that lack of access to dental care leads to significant losses in productivity time and money for veterans and their employers. 

 Veterans are a strong presence in the workforce, with many federal and state programs financially incentivizing employers to hire veterans. But many of those veterans are disproportionately impacted by dental disease. Veterans are 60% more likely to experience tooth decay compared to nonveterans, and 42% report having gum disease. 

Out of the 9 million veterans who are eligible for medical care through the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 85% are not eligible for dental coverage or care. In fact, veterans pay 65% more in out-of-pocket dental costs on average compared to nonveterans.  

 “We must and can do better to ensure that our veterans have access to high-quality comprehensive health care, including dental services,” said Myechia Minter-Jordan, MD, MBA, president and CEO of CareQuest Institute. “The solutions exist, and now is the time to enact needed policy change to ensure our nation’s veterans, who have made incredible sacrifices for our country, are able to live healthy, productive lives when they return home.”  

 “The continued lack of access to dental care experienced by veterans compounds negative health care outcomes, extending beyond just health and oral health into daily work lives,” said Annaliese Cothron, DHSc, MS, CPH, co-founder and executive director of AIDPH. “When veterans are in dental pain or experience social anxiety from unmet dental needs, their workplaces can suffer from low productivity. Veterans are the backbone of our national workforce and deserve solutions that keep them healthy and economically thriving.”    

 The report, which analyzes data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), highlights the profound impact of untreated dental disease on veterans’ quality of life and productivity in the workplace.  


Key findings include: 

Veterans with urgent dental needs were approximately five times more likely to report poor functioning and work compared to veterans who needed routine dental care. 

Poor oral health is linked to several chronic conditions, including heart disease. Among veterans with heart disease, the annual cost of missed workdays was four times higher for those who did not have a dental visit in the past year. 

Nearly 3 million veterans felt self-conscious or embarrassed because of their teeth, mouth, or dentures, which “has profound effects on socialization and feelings of loneliness.” 

Dental-related issues contribute to over $45 billion in lost work productivity annually among US adults. 

Veterans who reported experiencing oral pain at least occasionally within the past year were 13.5 times more likely to have oral health-related productivity loss compared to veterans who reported never experiencing oral pain. 

The report underscores the urgent need for more integrated health care solutions that prioritize cost-effective dental care for our nation’s veterans. Recommendations outlined in the report include strengthening the Community Care Network, ensuring that veterans who are eligible for dental care through the VA utilize the benefit, supporting Federally Qualified Health Centers, and implementing policy solutions on the local and state level to improve access and quality of care for veterans. 

The most effective policy solution to decreasing costs and improving oral health is expanding dental eligibility criteria for veterans who are already receiving medical care and chronic disease management through the VA. 

 Read the full report

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