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Better oral care improves employee health and reduces health claims
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Visiting the dentist twice annually for check-ups leads to better oral health and less major dental work down the road, most would agree, but new research shows that encouraging employees to get routine dental care also saves money on health care claims.
In light of these findings, employers should ensure that the design of their dental benefits promotes use of routine cleanings and exams.
Results from the Fifth Annual Guardian Workplace Benefits Study,
Dental Benefits: A Bridge to Oral Health & Wellness, published in January, reveal how regular trips to the dentist can
aid in early detection of potentially serious medical conditions. For instance, gum disease has been linked to cardiovascular risks and preterm low-birth-weight babies, tooth decay with osteoporosis and oral infections with diabetes.
"Encouraging employees to regularly visit their dentists not only promotes employee wellness, it can save a company money when it comes time to renew their group policies," said Marc Costantini, executive vice president of group and worksite markets at Guardia Life Insurance Co. of America, the study sponsor. "Regular dental visits can help with managing diabetes, lowering heart disease risk and contributing to a healthy pregnancy," added Randi Tillman, chief dental officer at Guardian.
Despite the benefits to good oral health, the study finds more than one in four adults fail to go to the dentist even once a year, and that:
The Guardian study's results are based on surveys conducted in the spring of 2017 among 2,000 employee benefits decision-makers throughout the U.S. and 1,700 full-time employees.
Encouraging Dental Visits
Given the positive impacts of preventive dental care for both company spending and workers' well-being, employers should seek ways to encourage greater use of routine cleanings and exams through the design of their dental benefits, Costantini and Tillman said, such as by:
Dental Care Expectations
"Consumer expectations are rapidly changing across most industries, and dental care is no exception," said Christopher Stevens, head of dental product management at Lincoln Financial, an insurance provider.
He cited Lincoln Financial's
2017 Dental Research Series, based on a survey of 1,000 adults across the U.S. Among the findings:
"Consumers may not be taking full advantage of their dental benefits due to a simple lack of knowledge about their insurance plans," Stevens said. "Often, dental insurance will fully cover the cost of preventive care such as annual or biannual dental visits and cleanings. If a quarter of these individuals—who indicated they have dental coverage—responded that they aren't going to the dentist because of cost, they're probably not making that connection."
In other findings, employees with dental coverage said that they:
[SHRM members-only toolkit:
Designing and Managing Wellness Programs]
National Children's Dental Health Month, co-sponsored by the American Dental Association.
"Regular dental care is a fundamental component to overall health and wellness—it's the same for toddlers and young children," said Amy Marko, senior vice president for dental and vision products at Starmount, a subsidiary of insurer Unum Group. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry,
delayed dental care for school-age children increases the likelihood that they'll need costly, major dental services, she noted. "Without regular dental care and hygiene, employees and their dependent children face other or more serious health concerns and higher health care costs."
Robert Delarosa, founding partner of Associates in Pediatric Dentistry in Baton Rouge, La., encouraged parents to take their children to a dentist by age one, "both from a disease standpoint and a financial perspective." Baby teeth decay in the same manner as permanent teeth do and are "subject to the same negative potential consequences, including infection, pain and loss of tooth structure leading to space loss and bite changes," he pointed out.
February is also the federally designated
American Heart Month and the American Hearth Association is reminding people that
treating gum disease may help lower blood pressure.
"Employers face the loss of productivity and the price of high-cost claimants, such as for heart disease and emergency room visits" by not adequately covering dental care, Marko said. "Dental is often excluded from the wellness message, and frequently omitted from the evaluation of overall health care cost. It's time to connect dental wellness to overall health care costs."
Bringing the Dental Office to Work
A commonly cited reason for not using dental benefits is the hassle of taking time off from work, including the time spent traveling to the dentist's office. An innovative approach to address this problem was launched last year in northern New Jersey. Henry the Dentist is a mobile dental clinic that comes to corporate offices, providing employees with an easy way to access in-network dental benefits without using a half day of time off. Services provided include exams, cleanings, X-rays and filings.
Related SHRM Articles:
Dental Benefits Are Often Misunderstood, Underused,
SHRM Online Benefits, July 2017
Give Your Dental Plan a Checkup,
SHRM Online Benefits, August 2015
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