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Expanded Medi-Cal Benefits Improve Lives of Many California Dental Patients

By John Luther, DDS, Chief Dental Officer

Dental care benefits under Medi-Cal – and the over 13 million Californians who depend on them – took a big hit in 2009. State budget constraints caused by the onslaught of the Great Recession resulted in deep cuts to state services, including basic dental care under the Medi-Cal program.

Eight years later, as the economy slowly recovered, California lawmakers passed a bill that fully reinstated those reduced benefits, providing improved dental care services not previously included as covered benefits under Medi-Cal. The changes took effect January 1, 2018.

The Medi-Cal Dental enhancements are substantial. Patients are now covered for procedures like scaling & root planing (SRPs or “deep cleaning”), treatment vital to the management and prevention of gum disease in high risk patients. Root canals on back teeth, instead of extractions, are now a possibility for many. Partial dentures are an option for denture patients. And many other services – exams, x-rays and fillings – are now included.

This is good news. For example:

  • It means that, if clinically appropriate, a denture patient doesn’t need a full mouth extraction to receive dentures – previously the only option under Medi-Cal – because partial dentures, which require fewer, if any, extractions, are now covered. Partial dentures not only provide significantly better performance and comfort than full dentures, but they also save existing teeth, help maintain bone and a provide a better quality of life.
  • A patient requiring a root canal on a back molar is now covered for that procedure, saving the tooth and preserving bone and the overall health of the patient. Under previous Medi-Cal coverage, the patient’s only option was extraction.
  • Scaling & root planing, now covered, is critical in controlling gum disease. Untreated gum disease makes it harder to control diabetes and is linked to other diseases such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and even cancer.

It’s been gratifying to see significantly more patients now enjoying this enhanced quality of dental care coverage. At the 191 Western Dental offices in California, we’ve seen an increase of 20% in Medi-Cal Dental patient visits since the beginning of the year. Being the largest provider of Medi-Cal Dental services in the state, we’re geared up to meet this pent-up demand. Our doctors and staff have been preparing for months in anticipation of the influx, and we expect to see a continued flow of new and returning patients as more patients with Medi-Cal Dental learn of their enhanced benefits.

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