TRICARE and your child's oral health

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Losing one's teeth is not a normal process of aging. With that said, bright and healthy smiles should last a lifetime. In order to preserve these smiles, good oral hygiene must be maintained throughout life, and early prevention is the key to promoting proper dental care.

In an effort to support this promotion of oral health, the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP), managed by the United Concordia Inc., is encouraging early enrollment of children in the dental program and recommends dental examinations for infants by their first birthday.

As a matter of fact, the American Dental Association recommends cleaning your baby's mouth a few days shortly after birth. Children are automatically enrolled into the program at age four; however, Air Force Col. Gary C. Martin, Director of Dental Care Division, TRICARE Management Activity, advocates the enrollment of children by age one to initiate good dental habits and prevention of tooth decay and gum disease. In other words, an active duty member enrolled in the family premium plan, which covers 2 or more dependents, may enroll their child earlier at no additional cost.

Diagnostic and preventive services, excluding sealants, require no copay for children within this age group. Through these preventive measures, unnecessary and expensive dental procedures can be avoided in the future.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases of childhood.

Statistics show that 17 percent of U.S. children aged 2-4 years have had decay. By the age of 8, that percentage increases to 52 percent having experienced decay, and by age 17, dental decay affects 78 percent of children. If left untreated, tooth decay can result in severe pain, infection, and loss of teeth. This is even more critical with children and the developing permanent dentition.

Because a child is going to ultimately lose their baby teeth, one should not believe that these teeth do not require careful monitoring and maintenance.

Premature loss of baby teeth can impair function and speech as well as cause spacing issues as the permanent teeth erupt.

So, what exactly is covered by the TDP? Diagnostic and preventive services such as exams, cleanings, and xrays are covered at 100 percent of United Concordia's allowance. If these services are rendered by a United Concordia participating dentist, no out-of-pocket expenses will be incurred.

The TDP covers three exams; however, the program will only cover two exams from the same dental office within any consecutive 12-month period. Two cleanings are also covered within a 12-month period. In other words, if a cleaning was received on Aug. 11, 2006 and another on Feb. 5, 2007, the next eligible cleaning would be on Aug. 1, 2007.

One set of four bitewing x-rays is also covered during a consecutive 12-month period. In the event of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), a second set may be approved if the previous x-rays are left with the dentist prior to PCSing.
In addition, two topical fluoride applications are covered by the TDP in a consecutive 12-month period. Fluoride helps to strengthen the outer enamel layer, making it less susceptible to developing cavities. Sealants on permanent molars,
which help to prevent cavities from occurring on the biting surfaces, are covered at 80 percent through age 18.
To reiterate, early prevention is the key to long lasting smiles. With the upcoming school year just around the corner, this is an opportune time for your child to see a dentist. Catching any dental problems before school starts can prevent a child from missing class or from a parent missing time from work. With the support of the TRICARE Dental Program and their efforts to ensure maximum benefits for our active duty members and their dependents, everyone should take advantage of these preventive services covered by the TDP. For more information, contact TRICARE at 1-800-866-8499 or visit their website at www.TRICAREdentalprogram.com.