CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — When it comes to maintaining a healthy body, a good place to start is a healthy mouth. That’s the finding of a study just released by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee confirming that a link exists between a person’s oral health and their overall health care status.

BlueCross members who had gone to their dentist for diagnostic and preventive care had lower health care costs and fewer incidences of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension compared to those who did not go to their dentist for care.

The report, titled Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body, found that there was a 2 percent health care cost difference between members utilizing preventive dental services versus members not using dental services of any kind that could result in nearly $5.5 million in medical claims savings annually in Tennessee. Also, inpatient admissions were nearly 16 percent higher for those who received no dental services.

Based on these findings, BlueCross has initiated an oral health program focusing on education, awareness, case management and a coupon program for members with both medical and dental coverage.

The BlueCross oral health program is unique because it utilizes data from both medical and dental claims of fully-insured customers. The coupon offers a free cleaning and exam for members who have medical issues that the research highlighted as at-risk: diabetes, cancer of the head and neck and women experiencing a high-risk pregnancy among others.

“While our research verifies existing published information, our access to the diagnosis codes on our groups with both medical and fully-insured dental coverage allows us to pinpoint our members that would benefit from the extra care,” said Jeff Price, dental program director for BlueCross. “We’re hopeful that the extra dental care can result in better health outcomes for our members,” Price stated.

Other findings in the study state that imaging costs were approximately 12 percent higher for those with periodontal issues. Pharmaceutical usage including Hepatitis C agents, inflammatory bowel agents and anti-retroviral combinations was higher among those with periodontal issues.

The report is available online at bcbst.com under the News & Issues section.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.