Summary: A paper in JADA highlights the impact of climate change events on dental practices, focusing on increased costs and insurance challenges, proposing government intervention and sustainable practices as solutions to mitigate these effects.

Key Takeaways:

  • Natural disasters raise operating costs for practices.
  • Rising insurance premiums may limit patient access to dental care.
  • Adoption of sustainable practices and government policies could offset adverse impacts.

A recent paper published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) explored the impact climate change-related events like hurricanes and wildfires already have on the dental profession.

The paper, “Climate Change and the Unforeseen Challenges for Dental Practice,” explores how natural disasters are challenging healthcare. Orthodontic Products spoke with Frank W. Licari, DDS, MPH, MBA, Dean of the Roseman University of Health Sciences, and Shankargouda Patil, BDS, MDS, PhD, a professor at Roseman teaching oral pathology and biomedical sciences, co-authors of the study.

Increasing Frequency of Natural Disasters and Their Direct Costs

The paper examines how, in the past decade, we have seen an uptick in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, particularly in vulnerable states like Florida, Louisiana, and California. “There’s a direct cost that goes with the premium increase, but there are also indirect costs,” says Licari. “When there’s a hurricane warning, you have to evacuate and leave for a week. If it does hit the area, even if no damage happens, you have no income that comes in.”

Impact on Insurance Premiums and Patient Access

One of the areas that has the most potential to impact private practice is rising insurance premiums. The risk is that as the cost of doing business goes up for practices, patients will be priced out of receiving the care they need, which may lead to an increase in regions without care providers.

“The premiums are definitely going up, and the insurance companies are charging more, especially in California and places like Florida,” says Patil. “As premiums rise, the number of patients coming to dental clinics will decline, or they will postpone their dental visits.” In some regions, the uncertainty caused by climate events and increasing costs are causing insurance companies to decline to insure small businesses altogether. The paper mentions a recent announcement by State Farm Insurance that it would be pulling out of California.

Government Intervention to Mitigate Risks

One way the authors suggest combating these increasing premiums is for national and local governments to become aware of the problem and enact policy changes to counteract it. “I think the federal and state governments have to take an active part in this, especially in the states where there are frequent climate change events,” says Patel.

Potential for Industry-wide Environmental Improvements

Lastly, the paper also suggests ways for practice owners to improve efficiency and reduce their impact on the environment. Patil suggests that companies embrace new technologies like remote monitoring and even seek out biodegradable materials.

While it might seem like a single practice isn’t going to make any difference to climate change, says Licari, there is a compounding effect when a whole industry becomes more sustainable. From a business angle, becoming more efficient can also be more profitable.

“One of the things we looked at is just how much money we can save by being more efficient,” says Licari. “It’s very difficult when only one practice does it, but imagine 100,000 practices doing it or a large association of group practices believing in something and looking at it. I think you can start to make somewhat of an impact.”