Should dental care be part of basic health insurance?

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Dubai: Should dental consultations be included in basic health insurance? Yes, say 89 per cent of UAE residents who participated in a survey commissioned by a global digital health company, adding that they neglect their oral hygiene and put off a visit to the dentist because of the prohibitive costs of dental care.

The survey’s respondents, 80 per cent of whom were expatriates, felt there is a need to review mandatory health insurance and expand it to include dental consultation, which is not covered by Essential Basic Plans (EBH) offered by insurance companies.

Currently, only high premium insurance packages include dental cover and a majority of people either pay out of pocket in case of a dental emergency or wait until they fly home to get their dental needs addressed.

Speaking to Gulf News, Markus Sebastian, Senior Vice-President of Align Technology, the global digital health company that commissioned the survey, said: “Research has indicated that dental hygiene is important as it influences the total health of the individual. We want to educate residents on the importance of oral hygiene and the need to make it a regular part of their health check-up.”

Markus Sebastian

In the survey, it was revealed that over 55 per cent of the respondents did not receive dental care when they needed it. Over 62 per cent said affordability was a huge deterrent factor. Nearly 85 per cent said they would opt to consult an oral health professional if their insurance covered it.

High cost of treatment

According to Dr Sanoop George, specialist endodontist and head of department at RAK Hospital, insurance coverage would ensure regular check-ups and prevent build of problems that would become costlier to address.

Dr Sanoop George

“People come to a dentist only when the pain is unbearable. Ideally, just one oral hygiene check in six months is enough to maintain good dental hygiene in non-smoking people and once a year in people who brush and floss regularly. In this visit, the dentist can check the gum health scale and clean the calculus and plaque. Scaling costs Dh250-400. A minor filling would cost about the same. However, when people allow major tooth decay to happen and the infection reaches the pulp, the cost of a root canal can go up to Dh1,500 with a few sittings and x-rays.”

Excluding cosmetic procedures like veneers, whitening, orthodontics (dental braces) from insurance can help keep premiums low, Dr George suggested. “Many a time, oral hygiene is an indicator of other medical conditions. People with diabetes for instance can suffer from bone erosion and inflamed gums. The infection can also seep through the blood vessels to impact cardiac health. All this can be avoided if dental consultations are done regularly and they are covered by insurance.”

Specialists said dental cover can be covered under basic plans by raising the premium marginally, just like the Basmah initiative where a small amount of Dh36 was added to the Essential Basic Plan to cover four kinds of cancer and Hepatitis.

Dr Sanjay Paithankar, health insurance specialist and partner at Right Health, said, “While people do take dental cover in insurances that have high premiums, we also extend group dental coverage to blue collar workers at a nominal increase in the premium. Sometimes, when the group is large, even a nominal raise of Dh15 works well to provide oral health coverage. In cases where only a small section of a group opts for dental coverage, the premium can go up by Dh50 per person.”

Dr Sanjay Paithankar

Discounts at select clinics

Blue collar workers get a 50 per cent discount on dental procedures, so although their insurance does not extend cover to dental procedures they can avail it at a relatively cheaper price.

Charles Salay, team leader for medical insurance at Petra Insurance Brokers, Dubai explained : “In the Essential Basic Plan (EBP) most providers have encrypted a 50 per cent discount on dental procedures. So if a blue collar worker needs to get teeth scaling done and the price for it is Dh175, he can select from the two or three limited dental clinics on his insurance network where he can get the procedure done for Dh85. There is no limit on the number of dental consultations he can avail.”

Charles Salay

In other medium-priced covers for white collar workers, companies with group insurances can get a comprehensive dental cover with an added amount of Dh500 additionally per year per individual and a co-insurance of 20 per cent, said Salay. However, in this kind of coverage, the annual limit is set at either Dh2,000 or Dh3,000, he added.

What residents say

Resident 1: “My company provides good health insurance with the dental cover being up to Dh2,000 per annum, but it only covers medical dental procedures. If I want to go for a regular scaling, my insurance won’t cover it. In the past, I had a serious gum infection and my insurance covered the treatment, but I wonder if I would have had that infection had I been scaling regularly.”

Resident 2: “ I’m covered up to Dh2,500 under my insurance but I have steered away from treatment at times due to the low amount – in comparison to the actual cost of certain dental procedures. I believe the cost of dental work is extremely expensive in the UAE.”

Resident 3: “I am quite happy with my insurance as it includes dental and I have a cover of Dh3,000 per annum. This has helped me with root canal and other dental procedures.”

Resident 4: “I have a dental cover for Dh2,000. This includes routine dental consultations, extractions and fillings. But up until now, I haven’t used this.”

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