Will Dental Insurance Soon Be “Discounted” To Those Who Brush and Floss Daily?

An article ran in mid-April about a family that switched dental insurers and were offered “free” electric toothbrushes after signing up.

The problem – for the author, anyway – was that those toothbrushes wirelessly connected to a free app that the users were to download to their smartphones. The toothbrushes tracked and reported on various tidbits of the users’ brushing habits. That might have included the frequency of brushing, length of brushing, and brush head speed. The author was able to verify only brush head speed based on the information supplied by the insurer.

The author brought up another point that’s rather more chilling: Would the industry eventually get to the point where dental insurance would be denied if a patient refused to allow his or her brushing habits to be tracked?

Will the “Internet of Things” Make Dental Insurance Unaffordable?

That may sound absurd, but there’s plenty of precedent in the Internet of Things (IoT).

There’s BIG money in data.  The “poster child” for the abuse of data is Facebook. Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg did a lengthy and public “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” for not safeguarding Facebook users’ data. Users were dismayed to discover that it’s nearly impossible to delete their Facebook accounts permanently. Facebook has long held that it owns users” data.

But that’s not the only instance. The collection and dissemination of personal data is happening on many fronts.

Auto insurers are offering discounts for current and potential clients who agree to plug a monitoring and reporting device into their vehicle. OnStar and similar services…

Internet usage is obviously closely monitored and tracked. Smartphone usage is tracked to the point where a map can be drawn of the phone user’s movements.

Reportedly, communications/entertainment devices such as Google Home Mini, smart thermostats such as Nest, and many more parts of the IoT gather and report data.

Who (Or What) Will Be the First “Data Breach” Involving Your Oral Health?

It’s conceivable that health insurers will eventually provide data-gathering/reporting automatic blood pressure cuffs to certain patients; that glucometers will track and forward blood sugar readings automatically; and that “smart” pill cases will relay the frequency of medicine compliance.

The public impetus behind the IoT is convenience and a better end-user experience. The private impetus is money – either saving companies money on non-compliant customers or making money by aggregating and selling users’ information.

Do We Have to Take the Bad With the Good?

As a group, dentists probably wish they could intervene earlier in the progression of gum disease. A “spying” electric toothbrush would likely make that possible, but at what cost to the doctor/patient relationship?

What about the patient whose oral hygiene habits don’t meet some insurers’ standards, but nevertheless presents with no evidence of gum disease at quarterly checkups and cleanings? Will that patient benefit if the insurer arbitrarily hikes the cost of insurance or cancels coverage altogether?

Dentistry is a trust-based business at its core. Establishing good relationships with patients, and becoming their trusted advisor, is a more viable long-term strategy to promote oral self-care than becoming Big Brother.

You might welcome the advent of the Internet of Things in many aspects. But if you’re going to collect data on your patients, full and informed consent is a must. The trust relationship is too valuable to risk damaging.