COMMENTARY

Does Treatment of Oral Disease Reduce the Costs of Medical Care?

Marjorie Jeffcoat, DMD; Nipul K. Tanna, DMD, MS; Clay Hedlund, DDS; Michael S. Hahn, DDS; Miles Hall, DDS, MBA; Robert J. Genco, DDS, PhD

Disclosures

October 19, 2011

In This Article

Advantages and Limitations of Existing Databases

Mining existing databases can be highly cost-effective in research. Insurance data have several advantages:

  • They are generally well-organized and accurate;

  • They can be automatically and blindly stripped of identifiers for use in hypothesis testing (as the present study);

  • They usually contain important demographic information that is necessary to control the analysis;

  • When medical and dental coverage are provided from the same carrier, investigating the relationship between oral and systemic health is greatly facilitated;

  • They offer large sample sizes; and

  • They provide solid, comparative data on costs, so that in this age of healthcare reform we are able to provide data to make the case that dentistry is cost-effective care.

Of course, the approach has some major limitations. Databases intended for other purposes (such as billing and audit functions) rarely contain all the information we would wish to have, such as probing depths, medical laboratory values, adherence to treatment protocols, or other behavioral factors. The most glaring deficiency is the absence of dental diagnostic codes, which forces us to use procedure codes as a surrogate for diagnosis. Furthermore, the findings of these studies do not show cause and effect, only an association between the variables of interest.

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