February is American Heart Month and a great time to focus on the 47.2% of American adults, or 64.7 million, who have mild, moderate or severe periodontitis and are at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.1,2
Periodontal disease, a dental condition, correlates to many risk factors. Researchers believe that gum disease may be an independent risk factor for heart disease.2 In fact, people with periodontal disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event.2
Periodontal disease is more common in men than women (56.4% vs 38.4%), those living below the federal poverty level (65.4%), those with less than a high school education (66.9%), and current smokers (64.2%).1
Addressing the oral health needs of vulnerable and underserved populations is vital and dentists play a crucial part. Gum disease may be a silent disease, but the effects of periodontitis are resounding and far-reaching. Every facet of the healthcare community needs to contribute to its mitigation.
Acting as a community partner, Humana is embracing the concept of whole health preventative care, which includes oral care. They are expanding coverage for periodontal care, educating and motivating members to use their dental benefits, and increasing access to patient medical history.
Many Humana dental plans offer three prophylaxis cleanings, unlimited and extended maximums and four periodontal maintenance cleanings a year eliminating many of the coverage and benefit barriers members often encounter.
Patient education and motivation to use dental benefits
Humana members receive reminders to go to the dentist while eligible members can receive points for going to the dentist that can be redeemed for gift cards within Humana’s Go365 wellness and rewards programs.
Increasing access to patient medical history.
Sharing patients’ health records amongst healthcare providers offer a window to assist in identifying opportunities at the point of care. Humana provides the Humana Member Summary (HMS) which shares dental, vision and medical records with both dentists and physicians alike. This 365-day snapshot of a patient’s medical history includes care alerts (like when a patient hasn’t been to the dentist in 12 months), HEDIS® gaps, prescription history, past diagnoses and more. The HMS will indicate if a patient has periodontal or heart disease so that both dentist and physician alike can take diagnoses into account within their treatment plan.
Another contributor to a patient’s health outcome which should be taken into account is socioeconomic status. Rural and lower-income households may suffer the most from social determinants of health (SDOH), like food insecurity and lack of transportation, which impact high-risk populations for periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is highly prevalent, particularly amongst socially disadvantaged populations.3
Humana not only assists dentists in effectively addressing SDOH, but they also play a key role in reinforcing the healthcare providers’ messaging.
Humana is addressing SDOH and the needs of the whole person through Humana’s population health strategy, which is focused on improving both the clinical and social health outcomes of their members. These efforts center around specific social determinants, like food insecurity, loneliness and social isolation, transportation and financial assistance. For example, as a heart disease prevention tactic, Humana offers dentists a Food Insecurity Toolkit to screen patients for food insecurity in the office. (Read more on SDOH here.)
Studies have observed that a balanced diet has an essential role in maintaining periodontal health.1 However, 1 in 9 Americans doesn’t have access to enough food for a healthy, active life.4 Households already struggling with food insecurity may find their current situations exacerbated by COVID-19.5 More than 35 million people in the United States struggled with hunger in 2019 and it is estimated more than 50 million people may have experienced food insecurity in 2020 because of COVID-19.6
It is now more imperative than ever to identify patients with SDOH and seize the opportunity to address patients’ dental health, including periodontal care, and therefore heart health.
Humana is constantly looking for ways to innovate and increase integration, drawing on and applying applications from research and new findings. More education, knowledge and guidance can help members enjoy life-long wellbeing and reduce their risk of periodontal disease.
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Learn more about how Humana is expanding dental care and focusing on prevention in our podcast interview with Dr. Dean Fry, Chief Dental Officer, Dr. Andrew Renda, Associate Vice President, Population Health and Dr. John Yamamoto, Dental Director:
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Periodontal Disease,” 2013, https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/periodontal-disease.html#:~:text=A%20recent%20CDC%20report1,and%20older%20have%20periodontal%20disease
2Harvard Medical School, “Gum Disease and heart disease: The common thread,” 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/gum-disease-and-heart-disease-the-common-thread
3Tellez, M., Zini, A. & Estupiñan-Day, S. Social Determinants and Oral Health: An Update. Curr Oral Health Rep 1, 148–152 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40496-014-0019-6
4Household Food Security in the United States in 2018. USDA, September 2019. Economic Research Report Number 270 www.ers.usda.gov
5US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, “Food Insecurity and COVID-19: Disparities in Early Effects for US Adults,” 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352694/
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