Smile Well

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When you get up in the morning to get ready for work, does your smile make you feel better? Or, is the toothy grin staring back at you in the mirror remind you more of a burnt cornfield on a hot late summer day? Oral health is connected to many other health conditions beyond the mouth. And in some cases, is a great predictor of future medical problems.


Providing dental benefits is beneficial to not only your employees, but also is a smart complimentary offering to your medical or wellness benefit program. Incorporating dental services is also a savvy business strategy for your employee benefits plan. For example, adding an affordable voluntary dental benefit is an excellent way to combat absenteeism; and if you "bake in" a dental product to be an automatic part of the employee benefits plan, your workers can use it to look good and stay well.


Great progress has been made in the last decade in understanding dental disease and its consequences, and how important oral health is relative to your overall physical well being. As the medical community has learned more about the causes of tooth decay and gum disease, dental health care providers and medical practitioners have been better able to target preventive treatments to those patients with risk factors for the disease.


These treatments may include mouth rinses that reduce the level of harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay or gum disease as well as the use of fluorides to put minerals back into the teeth before fillings are necessary. Additionally, more treatment options and dental tools have been developed that provide better overall oral health. If you are an employer, have you considered dental care in your company's wellness plan?


Dental wellness may be the most important facet, and dental benefits are an essential component of employee wellness plans. According to Colgate, maintaining good oral hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your teeth and gums. Healthy teeth not only enable you to look and feel good, they make it possible to eat and speak properly. Good oral health is important to your overall well-being.


Daily preventive care, including proper brushing and flossing, will help stop problems before they develop and is much less painful, expensive, and worrisome than treating conditions that have been allowed to progress. In between regular visits to the dentist, there are simple steps that each of us can take to greatly decrease the risk of developing tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental problems. These include:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice a day and flossing daily.
  • Eating a balanced diet and limiting snacks between meals.
  • Using dental products that contain fluoride, including toothpaste.
  • Rinsing with a fluoride mouth, and rinse if your dentist tells you to.

--Making sure that your children under 12 drink fluoridated water or take a fluoride supplement if they live in a non-fluoridated area. According to a report issued by Employee Benefit News, dental illness is the most common of all chronic health concerns and accounts for significant loss of workforce productivity and significant health care costs. Studies show workers who get their dental care completed and maintain good oral health do far better on the job than those who do not.


Oral health reduces the chance for emergency visits and the pain and discomfort that can harm a worker's focus and confidence. Workers, confident about their family's health, are more focused, productive and secure. Employers must consider the importance of providing dental plan options to workers if they wish to maintain a healthy workforce. Absenteeism for dentist visits, pain, discomfort and poor self-confidence harm production, employee confidence and quality of life across the corporate community.


Reports from the last 10 years provide some detail regarding the impact of oral health on the workplace. Workers experience 164 million hours of lost work time each year due to dental visits. The country's annual cost for general dental care is estimated at $60 billion dollars, which does not account for cranial facial care and care for oral problems, such as oral cancer or chronic pain syndromes.


These medical costs are estimated to average $100,000 per individual for the lifetime care required to address these oral illnesses and developmental problems. When companies consider wellness options for their employees, they many times may not think that dental health is part of an overall wellness program. Often, that benefit is singled out as a stand alone benefit, or lumped in as part of a health insurance or major medical plan.


However, after medical, employees consider dental the most valuable component of their benefit package. Workers desire dental care as an important part of benefit programs. In fact, workers select health programs that include dental care at a greater rate than when medical benefits are offered alone. As reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 80% of workers participate in benefit programs if dental care is part of the program.


And, approximately 92% of unionized employees and 75% of nonunion workers select dental coverage if offered. This behavior is fairly consistent nationally. However, only 46% of the nation's workers have access to dental care through an employee benefit program. Although employers can offer dental care benefits, this does not mean that the employee receives appropriate care. Common mouth infections, tooth decay, bleeding gums, bone loss around teeth and oral malodor are consequences of risky behaviors and poor self-care.


And, according to Gaebler, small business owners often feel like they are at a disadvantage because they can't absorb dental insurance premiums as easily as larger companies. But you might be surprised to learn that you have a lot of options - and some may be more affordable than you think. Like health insurance, dental insurance improves the overall health of your labor force.


By making it easier for your employees to access preventative measures such as regular cleanings and periodic x-rays, you can reduce the amount of time lost for extensive dental procedures. Less time lost translates into greater efficiency in the workplace and a healthier bottom line for your company. Healthy behaviors that support oral health go far beyond a healthy smile, according to Employee Benefit News.


People usually do not receive oral health information specific to their situation, nor do they know the benefits of timely dental visits for preventive care. Each person's risk for poor oral health is specific to his or her lifestyle and general health and can be measured through questionnaires about behaviors and situations that are significant to oral health and general health.


Individuals will certainly respond to information that is specific to them, removes misconceptions about oral problems and helps them to become wise consumers of health care. Personalized oral health education can be easily facilitated through secure, interactive online risk assessment tools provided by a corporate wellness program at very low cost.


This approach can significantly benefit the entire corporate community, provide precise data for program evaluation, direct timely dental preventive health care and reduce overall health care costs. Today, most employees share in the cost of their dental benefits, but few can choose between coverage levels. According to MetLife research, 84% of employees said they share or pay the entire cost of their coverage, but only 17% have a choice of plans.

Employees who are engaged in choosing their level of coverage want more choices to be made available to them. Sixty-seven percent of employees who have choices are likely to agree they want more choices in cost and coverage; and when employees understand their benefits, they are willing to pay more for more appropriate coverage. Companies that are taking steps to improve employee health in areas of acute and chronic illness, pain, poor diet and eating habits, and physical and emotional stress can increase successful outcomes when dental health education is incorporated into their health initiatives, according to OraMedica.


Incorporating dental health education into workplace wellness promotion notably mitigates the risks for heart disease, diabetes, pregnancy complications, cancer, and pain. Wellness coordinators who understand and support the dental-systemic health links impart significant dollar savings in employee health costs, absenteeism, healthcare premiums, workers' compensation, and other healthcare-related expenditures.


The incorporation of dental connections to systemic health, a missing link in wellness and disease management programs, causes ripples throughout all wellness initiatives. Advocates for health and wellness who seek better employee compliance in their programs will appreciate the reinforcement of healthy lifestyles, smoking cessation, nutrition, stress management, and fitness all contributors to the state of one's oral health.


Plus, oral health awareness and timely dental treatment help reduce company healthcare costs. Promoters of workplace wellness immediately see the relevance and recognize the significance to employee attendance and productivity. Employers should recognize that anything that helps maintain health and detects potential health problems before they occur and that includes dental conditions-keeps employees healthy and on the job.


Lost time, lack of productivity, employee health, and reduced revenues are all critical reasons to make sure that employers should encourage workers to maintain good oral health. Providing access to a quality a dental plan at affordable rates will help reduce the problems associated with employees who have problems related to poor oral health. A quality dental plan can be a valuable benefit to help keep employees at work.


The blind spot of employee wellness programs is they tend to focus on telling employees what they should be doing to live healthier without addressing how people are motivated to make changes or helping sustain desired behaviors, according to Employee Benefit News. People must have the right financial and social incentives, as well as use the right information about how to accomplish their goals.


Companies that develop a culture of prevention that rewards personal responsibility benefit from that environment; and the interests of employers and employees are aligned because both parties are seeking to contain mounting health care costs. Maintaining good oral health helps to offset more expensive medical expenses that can develop when dental care is ignored. Budget-neutral employee incentives that are aligned with preventative strategies result in healthy behaviors.


The approach is akin to a good-driver discount in that individuals who exhibit healthy behaviors are rewarded just as those with an accident-free driving record. Employees who participate in health, dental, and wellness programs, for example, would be eligible to receive a discount on their monthly health insurance premiums, which can be up to 20% based on HIPAA rules that govern wellness programs.


Another key component of this proactive approach is to encourage social interaction with friends and colleagues, which often drives physical activity on a daily basis. The use of social media can be used to help foster both an important sense of moral support and light-hearted competition to motivate employees. But in order to do these programs justice, employers need to recognize that there are different behavioral levers to motivate employees.


Employee wellness programs are created and maintained to encourage physical, mental and emotional health. More specifically, the programs are used to assist employees who want to quit smoking, lose weight, better manage stress and subscribe to a healthy lifestyle. One sign of a successful wellness program is how well the program helps employees to change negative habits and create and maintain a healthy lifestyle.


Hence, an employee wellness program is about more than an employee visiting an on-site gym two to three times a week to take advantage of reduced gym membership fees. Firm-wide senior management teams identify leaders or committees to manage an employee wellness program and to supervise who cover specific areas of wellness: employee assistance program (EAP), medical, vision, and physical fitness, and dental.

About The Author

Mark Roberts' professional sales background includes almost 30 years of sales and marketing in the tax, insurance, and investment markets. Currently his key focus is developing relationships with large national client groups, including insurance plans, employers, unions, affinity groups, and associations, and financial institutions in various areas of responsibility including sales, marketing, and account management.


Mark also is a licensed life, health and accident insurance agent in all 50 states and DC, and has participated in multiple large national employer open enrollments for voluntary products including limited medical benefit plans, short term disability, term and universal life policies, cancer and critical illness policies, and many other insurance products.


Additionally, Mark has been writing a health care blog for the past 3 years, found at www.yourbesthealthcare.blogspot.com , which is a topical weblog about various health care issues. He has been noted recently as the Medical Reporter for an online news service with over 110,000 subscribers at www.thecypresstimes.com , and he has been pleased to regularly contribute articles to magazines for both medical and dental topics both in the US and the UK. You can reach Mark at markr@careington.com or by phone at 800-441=0380, x2905.