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Public Health

New Bill Would Expand Dental Coverage For Diabetic Nevadans

A tray of dental equipment.
Lucia Starbuck

People with diabetes are more at risk for gum disease and infections. Medicaid doesn’t cover routine dental procedures. That’s why there’s a bill to expand dental coverage for Nevadans with diabetes. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck has more.

In Nevada, more than 12% of adults have diabetes, a disease that can lead to poor oral health. This session, lawmakers are trying to expand Medicaid dental coverage, including deep cleanings to remove plaque and tartar, which hold bacteria that cause gum inflammation. Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal has introduced AB 223 for diabetic adults over the age of 21.

Charles Duarte is CEO of Community Health Alliance in Reno, which serves mostly low income patients for both medical and dental needs.

“Quite often, our dentists are able to identify someone with diabetes even just by looking in their mouth because someone with diabetes has a depressed immune system very often, and that makes them prone to gum disease, infection, decay and bone loss in their jaw. Long term, that is really detrimental not only to their oral health but to their total health,” Duarte said.

Patients with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems due to poor blood sugar control. As a result, infections may cause blood sugar to rise, making diabetes even harder to manage. In general, Duarte doesn’t see oral health being taken as seriously as medical health care.

“It's intrinsically linked to overall health. [It's] no different than behavioral health. Mental health, medical health and oral health--they're all linked--and it's because it's all in one person,” Duarte said.

The measure is currently before lawmakers but has yet to receive a vote. If it moves forward, Nevada would apply for a federal waiver for roughly $7 million over two years.

Lucia Starbuck is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

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