Employees Forgo Covered Dental Checkups

A quarter of adults with coverage skip preventive dental care

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Oct 29, 2014
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Having a healthier mouth contributes to having a healthier body, yet a study of U.S. consumers by insurance provider Cigna found that more than one-fourth of adults with dental coverage don’t take full advantage of their preventive care benefits. Employers should encourage them to do so.

Cigna's October 2014 report, Why People with Dental Insurance Skip Oral Health Checkups, draws onasurvey of 500 men and women, ages 26 to 64, throughout the U.S. who have dental insurance but fail to go for dental checkups twice a year.

Dental Misconceptions

Despite typical dental plans covering preventive checkups every six months, some people are avoiding getting any care during the year because of concerns about out-of-pocket costs or, significantly, a fear of the dentist (often due to past, painful experiences). Others, particularly those who only see the dentist annually, say they don’t feel the need to get checked more frequently because their teeth don’t hurt.

“Absence of pain does not mean absence of problems. It is important that we help individuals overcome the barriers to obtaining preventive dental care that the study identified,” said Miles Hall, Cigna Dental’s chief clinical director, in remarks accompanying the survey results. “The longer the wait between dental visits, the more likely a problem will develop. Often more complicated problems are more expensive to treat, leading to the very situation that consumers want to avoid,” he noted.

The findings point to missed opportunities for people to get more value from their dental insurance, given that most plans cover in-network preventive care visits every six months with no or low out-of-pocket costs. Preventive care services can include an exam, teeth cleaning and certain x-rays.

“There appears to be some confusion about what is preventive care versus treatment,” Hall said. “Those who are unsure should ask their dentist or insurer about the specifics of their plan. Regular dental checkups can have big rewards—healthier teeth and gums throughout your life.” Moreover, having even one dental checkup a year can make a difference. Those who had one exam during the year were nearly twice as likely to report their oral health as very good or excellent compared to those who failed to go at all, the study found.

Promoting Dental Health

“Since self-reported oral health declines significantly with age, the study reinforces the importance of sustaining good dental habits,” Hall said. He suggested providing employees with clearly stated information about the scope of their dental coverage, along with information to help alleviate their concerns—for instance, communicating that:

Dentists and hygienists are trained professionals familiar with patient fears and can help ease concerns about pain.

Dental offices continue to make technological advances in equipment and treatments so that procedures often take less time, with less discomfort.

Cigna has posted a short video that can be shared with employees, “Getting the Most from Your Dental Benefits,” which addresses fears about seeing a dentist and points out the long-term value of oral care.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

Related SHRM Articles:

Dental Benefits Evolve in an Exchange-Driven World, SHRM Online Benefits, October 2013

Costs of Routine Dental Services Vary Widely, SHRM Online Benefits, October 2011

Dental Benefits Undervalued Without Effective Communication, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2009

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