New Medi-Cal dental benefits offer something to smile about

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- For nearly a decade, people with the least ability to pay for things like root canals and crowns had very limited coverage.

Now, in 2018, millions of Californians will have access to key dental services.

Ashley Holmes of Burbank has been dealing with sensitive teeth, but she'd been skipping dental appointments because her insurance didn't cover much.

"I would avoid the dentist because I know I'm going to need something else and I wouldn't be able to pay for it right away," said Holmes.

The new year is giving Medi-Cal patients like Holmes something to smile about: new dental benefits.

Dr. John Luther, the chief dental officer for Western Dental said, "Adults can get white crowns on their front teeth, they can get root canals on their back teeth so they don't have to have those teeth pulled. They can get partial dentures and they can get gum care."

Luther said it's an opportunity to provide preventive and continuous care instead of just emergency extractions.

Managing dentist at Western Dental Dr. Reza Sadeghi said he's had to pull so many teeth because patients couldn't afford anything else.

"These patients would choose to pull a tooth rather than save it, " he said.

In 2009 when dental benefits were cut for the eight million people on Medi-Cal, many did without or delayed their care.

Experts say it's a move that cost California much more in the long run.

"When people that have their teeth restored have good self-esteem, they are able to get jobs. They have better nutrition, so they're better able to take care of themselves. And this correlation between gum disease and chronic infection also saves California on the medical side," Luther said.

Many Medi-Cal patients aren't aware of their new dental benefits. Another challenge? Getting more dentists to accept Denti-Cal.

"It's very difficult for dentists to accept Denti-Cal patients because the fees are often 30 percent of what fee-for-service rates are," Luther said.

The stability of these new benefits depends on how well Medi-Cal survives new legislation and looming cuts.

Holmes said going to the dentist should be a necessity, not just a luxury she can't afford.

"It's good because now I can come to the dentist and not be afraid that I would need anything more, " she said, "I can do more preventative rather than just doing what you need to do."
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