Medicaid expansion improves oral health

By Tanya Dorf Brunner | April 13, 2021

Kansas is one of only 12 states that has not expanded its Medicaid program. Over 165,000 Kansans would be eligible for health and dental coverage if we expand the KanCare program. So far, the state has forfeited $4.7 million federal dollars because we have failed to expand.

New research out of the state of Michigan offers more reasons to expand KanCare. The Journal of Public Health Dentistry published the results of a study from the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation last month. The state of Michigan expanded their Medicaid program in 2014, and it covers more than 895,000 people who are eligible for dental benefits including fillings, cleanings, and dentures.

The study tracked a group of people enrolled in the Medicaid expansion program, and it showed that 57% of people who had seen a dentist reporting improved oral health. Three-fourths of the people who reported their oral health had improved also said their Medicaid expansion coverage had helped them be more confident and do a better job at work. Of the people who were unemployed, 60% said the new coverage had helped them look for a job.

Most of the people involved in the study had been uninsured prior to enrolling in the Michigan Medicaid expansion program. Some even said they had to rely on emergency rooms for relief of dental pain prior to enrolling in Medicaid. The researchers reported that one study participant told them, “”My teeth were pretty bad…and they fixed it up fine, and now…I feel better when I am looking for a job…I feel better because my appearance has changed a lot. That has helped me a lot, physically and mentally.”

The findings of this study show that Medicaid expansion not only has a significant impact on people’s oral health, but also on their confidence and ability to work. According to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute’s research, 26% of low-income Kansans report that the appearance of the teeth and mouth affect their ability to interview for a job.

Oral Health Kansas supports Medicaid expansion because it will extend medical and dental benefits to over 165,000 low-income adults. This group of people works in jobs that do not provide insurance, and they frequently struggle to access dental care. Medicaid expansion will not only improve their health, but also their confidence and ability to get and maintain good jobs.

Learn more about the Michigan study in this March 23, 2021, article from Medical News.

Tanya Dorf Brunner is executive director of Oral Health Kansas