The Importance of Being Ready: Lessons from Medicaid and Commercial Dental Claims Data

Published 10/19/2022

What lessons can we learn from examining dental procedure utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic? A new visual report from CareQuest Institute examines that question, using Medicaid and commercial insurance claims data to find differences in trends by age and insurance type that can inform future planning for providers and dental offices. 

Procedures to Resolve Pain Spiked

When looking at procedures as a proportion of overall outpatient encounters, procedures aimed at resolving pain spiked in April 2020 compared to April 2019, but the procedures differed based on insurance type. Oral surgery procedures (e.g. extractions) increased significantly in April 2020, especially for individuals covered by Medicaid insurance. The authors wrote, “As many states’ Medicaid programs cover extractions as part of their emergency coverage, oral health providers may have relied more on this type of procedure in emergency situations during the early days of the pandemic.” 

Meanwhile, endodontic procedures increased more for individuals with commercial insurance in April 2020, suggesting that “oral health providers may have chosen to address some dental emergencies using endodontic procedures rather than extractions, particularly for patients with commercial insurance.” Other key findings include: 

  • Dental encounters began declining in February 2020, dropping to their lowest point in April 2020, returning to near-2019 levels by June 2020, and remaining relatively stable through the rest of 2020. 
  • Procedures related to preventing disease and fixing minor problems decreased precipitously in the early days of the pandemic. 

According to the authors, “These findings suggest that dental providers were following guidance to limit elective treatments and focus on emergent care.” They also noted a need for the oral health profession to maintain a state of emergency readiness to be able to provide consistent care in the face of future public health emergencies. 

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