Dental Benefits Undervalued Without Effective Communication

One in five have "no idea" what is — and isn't — covered.

By Stephen Miller Aug 21, 2009

U.S. employers can enhance employees' satisfaction with their dental benefits by providing access to information and tools on dental care, according to Elevating the value of Dental Benefits Through Employee Communications, a research study by benefits provider MetLife.

“Given the current economic environment and growing importance employees are placing on ancillary benefits such as life, dental and disability, employers need to properly communicate with their employees to help them realize the full value of their benefit dollars," says Alan Vogel, DMD, national dental director for MetLife. "To optimize the value of any dental benefit plan, it is important that the end-user—the employee—be satisfied. This study can serve as a resource for employers as they seek to drive both employee satisfaction and retention while managing costs,” he adds.

Better Communications Drive Satisfaction

While dental benefits are among the benefits used most frequently by employees, MetLife’s research suggests that many employees would like a better understanding of their dental coverage and their oral health risks. When asked about their satisfaction with the information they currently receive, just one in three employees feel that they have the coverage information they need to understand or select a plan, and one in five employees said they have “no idea” what is and what is not covered.

Only 35 percent of U.S. employees reported being extremely satisfied with the information they receive about dental procedures covered. Similarly, just 35 percent were extremely satisfied with information on the number of visits/procedures allowed, and 29 percent with information on procedures not covered and limitations.

As with other types of benefits communications, the challenge is to make dental plan information visible, available readily and easy to digest. When employees know that information is available to them, they are fairly likely to use it, the study indicates.

Beyond the Basics

MetLife’s research uncovered ways that employers can offer better—but not necessarily more—communications to help improve employee satisfaction with their dental benefits offerings. Specifically, employers and brokers should consider enhancing their basic information provided to employees and then move “beyond the basics” and:

Inform employees of the importance of oral health. Employees perceive that oral health information is lacking (only 9 percent reported that materials on oral health were available to them). Yet education on oral diseases and risk helps employees become better consumers of their benefits by helping them choose more effective treatment options.

Understanding oral health needs, and its link to overall health, can limit benefit plan and employees’ out-of-pocket costs over time by preventing or treating disease in its early stages when treatments tend to cost less. Many carriers have compiled information packets or libraries on oral health needs that can offer insights for employees when making decisions about their dental benefits. Such resources are valuable because they can encourage employees to take preventive measures to ensure their future dental health.

Educate employees about dental coverage. Employers need to provide better information when it comes to describing dental benefits—only 35 percent of employees reported that they have all the coverage information needed to make benefit decisions. A significant number (62 percent) place high value on information as to why procedures are or are not covered under their plans. Employees are also interested in dental benefit utilization summaries (45 percent) to help them keep track of the benefits they’ve used for the year and what they have left.

This again reveals a gap in the kind of information that plan participants are interested in and what they perceive as available to them. Employees who receive detailed plan information they value might feel more confident they are getting the best value for their premium dollars, and are less likely to be “surprised” after receiving their explanation of benefits (EOB).

Provide access to additional resources, such as oral health risk assessment tools. Only 4 percent of employees thought oral health risk assessment tools were available to them, but 28 percent felt they would be "extremely valuable" to them when making decisions about dental care. And while only 7 percent of employees thought an evaluation of dental usage was available to them, another 28 percent said they would find it valuable.

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

Related Articles:

Put New Teeth in Dental Coverage, Report Recommends, HR News, March 2008

Smile, You’ve Got Options: The Future of Dental Benefits, HR Magazine, November 2004

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