Basic Dental Care a Key to Saving Health Care Billions

Spend now and save later.

That’s a key strategy when it comes to the connection between basic dental care and the potential for more serious future problems, according to a white paper written by Dr. Uma Kelekar, director of Marymount’s Healthcare Management program. The study was funded by a grant from the Dental Trade Alliance, an Arlington-based nonprofit.

“When you invest a modest amount in early, ongoing care, you’re paid back over time by avoiding drastic care,” Kelekar wrote in “An Unexpected Strategy for Reducing Health Care Cost.” The paper highlights how relatively routine dental care could save the U.S. system billions of dollars a year — not just in expensive dental costs, but in other areas of health care.

For example, if 60 percent of diabetes patients better managed their gum disease, savings could equal about $39 billion per year, or $1,854 per diabetic individual.

Kelekar’s white paper is now being used to influence public policy. The DTA was recently out en masse on Capitol Hill promoting the importance of dental health, and the source material for the literature it used was her work.

“The topic got me very interested and I kept doing research,” said Kelekar, who received funding from DentaQuest Foundation in Boston to consider the impact acute dental problems have on children missing school.

Kelekar, who has a Ph.D. in public policy from George Mason University and a master’s in economics from Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in India, teaches graduate-level courses in healthcare reimbursement, health economics, data analysis, and epidemiology at Marymount. She currently has two scientific papers under peer review that deal with dental-related health issues.

“My next project will be to look at the number of dental problems in the United States that are addressed in the Emergency Rooms, which is something that’s completely unnecessary,” she said. “A lot of people end up going to the ER because they don’t have dental insurance and put off having routine care until it becomes an emergency.”