The Birth of Dental Insurance: A Historical Overview

Did you know dental insurance is a relatively new invention? The history of modern dentistry begins in the mid-19th century. In 1840 the very first school of Dentistry in the United States was founded – The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. In 1895 the X-ray was discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen. In 1896 prominent New Orleans dentist C. Edmond Kells took the first dental x-ray of a living person in the U.S. The porcelain jacket crown was devised by Charles Land in 1903. The local anesthetic procain, later known as Novocain was formulated by a German chemist in 1905.

Fluoridation to Insurance: Dental Milestones

Water fluoridation began in 1945 in New York and Michigan. Toothpaste with Fluoride came along in 1950. Dental insurance is a result of a union deal struck by the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union and the Pacific Maritime Association (ILWU-PMA) in 1956 whereby they desired dental benefits for workers and their families. Medical Insurance had been around since 1850 but without any dental coverage. This dental insurance coverage of over 2000 children by the California Dental Association Service became Delta Dental of California in 1957.

The Nationalization of Dental Insurance

The idea of dental insurance spread across the United States when the American Dental Association recommended having a national agency to coordinate coverage across different states. In 1966, Delta Dental Plans Association was formed under the name National Association of Dental Service Plans.

Medicare, Medicaid, and the Evolution of Dental Care

In 1966 Medicare brought medical care to the aged in the United States without regard to income. This did not include dentistry, but Medicaid did. The average American over age 65 years had only seven of his or her original teeth before dental insurance. By 1980 more than half of all people with dental benefits were covered by commercial prepaid plans. By 1988 tooth decay affected 59 percent of children with permanent teeth, i.e., 12-19 years old. Seniors over age 65 had an average of 18.90 remaining teeth in 1995.

Expanding Benefits: The Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act

It was not until 2004 that the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act was signed by President Bush. The act gave federal employees access to full dental and vision benefits. In 2010 pediatric dental coverage was included as an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act.

Dental Health in Modern America

By 2015 approximately two-thirds of the population indicated they brush at least twice daily and approximately one-third reported flossing daily. Males, those younger and less educated, and those without dental benefits are significantly less likely to engage in these positive oral health behaviors. 90% replace their toothbrush at least every six months. Today, about 77% of Americans have dental insurance, according to 2017 enrollment statistics from the National Association of Dental Plans. That includes nearly 90% of children. With dental insurance, you have access to low-cost preventive care. That means you’re more likely to visit the dentist frequently and less likely to suffer from cavities and gum disease.

Dental Coverage Today: Delta Dental’s Impact

In 2019, Delta Dental companies covered more Americans than any other dental carrier. Over 78 million people are covered by Delta Dental plans across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Reality of Dental Insurance Benefits

Dental Insurance has provided an avenue to increase oral healthcare in the United States. However, it is not all good news. The benefits allotted when the dental plans first started in 1954 of benefits amounting to an average of $1,00 – $1,500 per year are still close to the same now. If your policy had kept up with inflation, it would cover over $9,000 of dental care per family member! We’re here to help you maximize your benefits, but if you rely on dental insurance alone to maintain your dental health, you may find yourself disappointed.

Understanding the Limitations of Dental Plans

While the premiums rise, the annual maximum allowances remain the same, and as employers struggle with the rising cost of medical benefits, dental benefits get reduced. Here are some of the limitations and changes we are seeing on some plans:

  • Only one or two routine visits are covered per year (even though the ADA recommends three or four visits for people prone to or experiencing gum disease)
  • Emergency exams are not covered if you’ve already had two routine exams in a year
  • White fillings and tooth-colored crowns not covered, only metal silver ones
  • Tooth extractions not covered
  • Preexisting conditions like missing teeth not covered
  • Won’t allow the replacement of broken-down fillings
  • Waiting periods for major care like crowns

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