Delta Dental Institute Plays Key Role in Groundbreaking Heart Study
An extensive analysis of treatment data by Delta Dental’s Research and Data Institute played a key role in developing new treatment guidelines that are expected to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics for dental patients at risk for a potentially deadly heart infection. The Institute is operated by the affiliated Delta Dental plans of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee.
New guidelines released by the American Heart Association (AHA) in April recommend that only patients whose heart disease places them at the highest risk for infective endocarditis (an infection of the heart lining that can lead to congestive heart failure, stroke, and even death) should receive antibiotics as a preventive measure prior to dental treatment.
This is a major change from previous recommendations, which called for premedication of a much larger group of patients with a lower risk of infective endocarditis. Appropriate use of antibiotics is critical because their overuse contributes to the creation of “super bugs,” or bacteria that are resistant to drugs, and side effects which are a public health concern worldwide.
For the AHA study, the Delta Dental Research and Data Institute, through its extensive data warehouse, provided data on the frequency of dental procedures received by millions of patients over a 12-month period. This included data from nearly 22 million dental claims from Delta Dental-covered individuals located throughout the United States. Personal identification information was removed from the data to protect individuals’ privacy rights.
“The size and nature of the dental procedure data from Delta Dental was critical to showing that the change in the way we now describe dental procedures that might put patients at risk would not result in significantly more procedures or patients being covered with antibiotics,” said Dr. Peter Lockhart, chair of oral medicine at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, and a member of the AHA Writing Committee that examined this issue.
The new AHA recommendations, which have been endorsed by the American Dental Association, provide additional confirmation of the importance of oral health to overall health. It found that an individual’s overall level of oral health may be the most important factor in avoiding infective endocarditis, and that antibiotics prior to dental treatment may be ineffective and unnecessary for many patients with heart valve disease.
“Advancing scientific knowledge on oral health and its connection to other health conditions is a major priority at Delta Dental,” said Dr. Jed J. Jacobson, senior vice president and chief science officer of Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee.
“This study provides more evidence that good oral health contributes to good overall health,” he said.
Delta Dental founded the Research and Data Institute in 2005. Key areas of study include the connection between oral and overall health, changing patterns of dental disease in the population, and the changes in dental plan design based on scientific evidence.
“Because of the scope of our data warehouse and our informatics expertise, we are in a unique position to contribute to important policy issues like this,” he said. “The AHA guidelines will change how dentists manage their patients and Delta Dental strongly encourages individuals with heart conditions to discuss these new guidelines with their dentists.”
The affiliated Delta Dental companies of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee collectively are one of the largest dental plan administrators in the nation. In 2006, the enterprise paid out more than $1.7 billion for dental care for more than 6.2 million enrollees. Offices are located in Okemos, Farmington Hills and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Nashville, Knoxville, and Memphis, Tennessee.