By Dr. Keith Libou, Chief Clinical Officer, Delta Dental of New Jersey, Inc
Smart business owners make sure every cent that goes into the business delivers big returns. One investment that pays off in multiple ways is an employee dental benefits program.
Why? Because oral health is closely tied to overall health. Helping your employees keep their smiles – and bodies – healthy can boost productivity and reduce absenteeism – and can give you an edge in attracting and retaining employees.
Connection between oral, overall health
Regular dental visits help keep more than teeth healthy. There is a growing body of information supporting the relationship between oral health and total patient wellness. One study by the American Heart Association found that people who don’t brush and floss regularly had three times the risk of dying from a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
Here’s another interesting fact: People with dental benefits are more likely to practice those good oral hygiene habits.
Periodontal, or gum, disease is believed to play a role in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, low birth weight babies, and other systemic conditions. Dentists can detect the early signs of many serious medical conditions. Early detection and diagnosis often lead to better health outcomes. In fact, about 120 medical conditions can be detected by an examination of the mouth, throat, and neck. Signs and symptoms of diabetes, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, autoimmune diseases, and many oral cancers may be first detected through oral manifestations.
Here are five ways dental visits and dental benefits can keep employees and their families healthier.
Almost one in five children age 2-11 have untreated caries or tooth decay. It isn’t just limited to children, either. Anyone who has teeth is susceptible. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and tooth loss – and, for parents, additional time away from work at the dentist. Fortunately, good oral hygiene coupled with regular dental visits can help minimize (and even prevent) cavities.
Preventing and managing gum disease
Two hundred million Americans have some form of periodontal, or gum, disease. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease have nearly double the risk for heart disease as those with healthy gums. Gum disease, if not treated properly, may be a contributing factor of lung disease, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, colon cancer, obesity, and premature birth.
Regular dental visits and professional cleanings, combined with proper dental home care, can help prevent gum disease.
Oral cancer screening
Oral exams play a crucial role in the early detection of oral cancers. More than 75% of oral cancers can be detected in a comprehensive oral exam. When detected early, localized oral cancer has an 82.7% five-year survival rate. However, survival rates drop to 28% once the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
Dentists are taking on a greater role for recognizing patients at risk for various systemic conditions, including diabetes. One in three American adults are pre-diabetic – and most don’t know it. Dentists in certain states, including New Jersey (currently) and Connecticut (as of January 1, 2020), can now offer in-office A1c, or blood glucose, testing, which could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment for many patients with diabetes and prediabetes.
During a prospective study of 500 patients – none of whom had a prior diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes – this screening revealed that more than 20% were prediabetic or had diabetes. Delta Dental of New Jersey helped pioneer the development of dental office testing for diabetes, as well as having it be a covered benefit.
Preventing high-risk births
OB-GYN appointments are a routine part of pregnancy. But not everyone realizes that regular dental visits should be part of the prenatal regimen, too.
A mother’s good oral health benefits both her and her baby—but pregnancy can make it harder to achieve. Increases in progesterone and other hormones can multiply production of dental plaque. That dental plaque can cause gingivitis, the first stage of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease that progresses can increase the risk for delivering a low birth weight or pre-term baby. It is critical for women to receive regular—and sometimes even extra—dental care during pregnancy. Good oral health during pregnancy means healthier mothers and infants.
Productivity goes up, absenteeism down
Healthy employees are more productive and miss work less often. Good oral health plays a big role in their overall health.
Those with dental benefits are much more likely to visit the dentist than those without benefits. Nearly 2 out of 3 people who lack dental benefits don’t visit the dentist as often as they should. Skipping dental visits can lead to painful oral health problems that can impact their work.
About 40% of chronic pain in the United States is due to oral-facial pain. Chronic pain is significantly associated with reduced performance at work.
Dental problems can also cause acute pain, which affects absenteeism. Each year, 164 million work hours are lost in the United States due to lack of dental care. Poor oral health also affects employees’ children, keeping them from performing their best at school.
Dental benefits can help keep your employees healthy, productive, and on the job.
Dental benefits attract and retain more prospective employees
Nearly 9 out of 10 job seekers say better health, dental, and vision benefits are factors they consider when choosing a job. And 7 out of 10 say it’s important that their prospective employers provide dental benefits.
When you include dental benefits in your benefits package, you expand your pool of job applicants. Offering dental makes your business more attractive. In today’s competitive market, potential employees often weigh multiple job offers – and dental benefits can make the difference in your favor.
Dental benefits also promote retention. It costs on average $4,000 to hire a new employee, according to a study by U.C. Berkeley. It takes considerable time and money to recruit and train new hires. Employee benefits, including dental, help keep your current workforce stable and satisfied.
Dental benefits also cost less than you may think. Some plans cost as little as $12 per month per employee.
Here’s the bottom line: Businesses and employees both win when dental coverage is included in the company’s benefit package. That’s something everyone can smile about.
Dr. Keith Libou is Chief Clinical Officer at Delta Dental of New Jersey, which offers dental plans for businesses of all sizes.
- In America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10, “Impact of Dental Benefits.”
- America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10, “Critical Role of Oral Exams”
- “Untreated Caries Rates Falling Among Low-Income Children,” American Dental Association, 6/7/17.
- “The Relationship Between Heart Health, Oral Health and Overall Health,” Dr. Keith Libou, The Record, February 17, 2019.
- America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10, “Early Detection of Oral Cancer.”
- AMA press release, “Prediabetes campaign: 1 in 3 in U.S. has prediabetes,” November 14, 2018. https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/press-releases/prediabetes-campaign-1-3-us-has-prediabetes-learn-your-risk
- “Delta Dental of New Jersey Dentists To Officer In-Office A1c Diabetes Testing,” press release, June 1, 2015.
- The Long Group Retail Dental Insurance Consumer Acceptance Survey, June 2009. (In America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10).
- CDC Disk: Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Data Resource Center, “Oral Health U.S.,” 2002. (In America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10).
- Kawai, K, Kawai, AT, Wollan, P, Yawn BP, “Adverse impacts of chronic pain on health-related quality of life, work productivity, depression and anxiety in a community-based study,” National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28444208
- “Oral Health in America: A Report Of The Surgeon General,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000
- Kerry Jones, “The Most Desired Employee Benefits,” Harvard Business Review, 2/15/17
- The Long Group Consumer Survey, April 2008 (In America’s Oral Health: The Role of Dental Benefits, published by DDPA 4/10)