The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a boon for children’s teeth. Early estimates put the number of newly-insured young smiles at somewhere around 1.7 million.
But is there any hope for coverage for adult smiles?
While pediatric dentistry was included under the “Essential Health Benefits” section of the ACA, adult dental insurance is not required, notably with regards to orthodontia. This could be due, in part, to the lingering stigma of orthodontic correction as a “cosmetic” procedure.
Common sense tells us this is a silly distinction: straight teeth don’t wear down unevenly, they help us eat a much wider variety of foods, they’re easier to keep clean (thus helping to avoid decay and gum disease), and they provide us the emotional confidence to show our smile.
While the ACA does include provisions for “medically necessary” orthodontic correction (due to injury, extreme illness, etc.), it does not yet include orthodontia across the board, not even for children.
This lack of inclusion comes at an inopportune time for adult patients who want to take advantage of the newer orthodontic technologies. This includes adults who have been living with uneven smiles and maloccluded bite patterns for most of their lives, who were hesitant to get the traditional (read: highly visible) metal braces.
The lack of required coverage leaves many adults paying for their braces out of pocket. Luckily, the very technology that makes getting braces more appealing is also making them more affordable and easier to endure.
For example, traditional braces require adjustment every four-to-six weeks. Invisalign trays are instead swapped out every two weeks, dramatically shortening the overall time a patient is being corrected.
More general dentists are also being trained in the use, application, and fitting of corrective trays like Invisalign, making them a “one-stop shop” for their usual patients who may also be interested in orthodontic correction.
Will adult dental coverage (orthodontia in particular) be included in future modifications of the ACA? Only time will tell. But perhaps further technological advances and breakthroughs will render the question moot.