One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health

Are you promoting oral health when promoting employee wellness? Research shows an association between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease. Continue reading to learn more.

With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits approaching $15,000 a year per employee, according to the National Business Group on Health, innovative companies are looking for new and creative ways to get maximum value from their benefits dollars.

By embracing benefits strategies focused on overall health, companies can help their current employees be healthier and more productive and attract and retain the workers they need to succeed in today’s competitive labor markets.

And although wellness programs or health apps might first spring to mind, there’s an overlooked way to promote employees’ health: oral care.

Guided by research that shows associations between gum disease and conditions like diabetes and coronary artery disease, forward-thinking dental insurers are developing products that emphasize the importance of regular oral care, particularly for workers with those conditions — and smart companies are jumping on board.

Products that emphasize the importance of maintaining oral health are an important step in integrating care. Over the next several years, leading-edge insurers will create new ways to engage patients in conversations about their dental and overall health, as they seek to encourage behavior changes and improve health outcomes. To help improve oral and overall well-being, insurers will need to share oral care information with their members through targeted emails, text messages and phone calls.

Additionally, because individuals dealing with a complex treatment plan may put off receiving oral care while they address their medical issues, they could benefit from plans featuring a case manager, or a “dental champion.” Working in conjunction with medical case managers, a dental champion can help employees understand how receiving regular oral care can influence their overall health. They also can ensure a company’s workforce is getting the oral care they need, helping them find providers and arrange appointments.

Savvy employers recognize that any realistic effort to limit the increase in healthcare costs begins by addressing chronic ailments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes.

By promoting overall health — including regular oral care — employers can encourage positive lifestyle changes that help their employees reduce the likelihood of many chronic problems. Those who brush and floss their teeth regularly, receive frequent cleanings and checkups and deal with oral issues at early stages are taking steps to improve their overall health.

Because everyone’s individual situation is different, insurers and employers will need to include a more personalized approach, engaging members in conversations about their dental health and how it contributes to attaining their overall health goals.

SOURCE: Palmer, T. (13 June 2019) "One overlooked way to promote well-being: Target oral health" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

Why Employers Should Boost Dental Benefits Enrollment

Original post

You might eat a balanced diet and squeeze in a mix of cardio and weight-lifting workouts every week to stay healthy. But to be truly healthy, you’ve got to focus on more than just working out and eating well. Believe it or not, you’ve also got to focus on oral health.

The link between oral health and cardiovascular health isn’t new; however, there is new evidence that more closely ties periodontitis, better known as gum disease, to heart attacks and stroke. One study showed that treating oral inflammation caused by gum disease with a topical remedy reduced vascular inflammation, which is a leading risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

Heart disease is a serious problem in the United States — one in four people will die of the malady if it goes untreated. It’s also a major expense for Americans, including employees and employers who sponsor their health plans; heart disease costs nearly $1 billion a day in medical care and lost productivity.

Gum disease can affect more than just the heart. For pregnant women, it can also affect unborn babies. The bacteria caused by periodontitis can get into the blood stream and target the fetus, contributing to premature birth or low birth weight. Not only does prematurity and low birth weight put newborns at risk for issues in the beginning of life and learning, as well as developmental issues later on, it’s also costly for a family. In its first year, a preemie can cost around $49,000 in expenses, compared to just $4,551 for an infant who doesn’t experience complications. The March of Dimes reports that pre-term birth costs more than $12 billion in excess healthcare costs.

Diabetics also need to pay special attention to their oral health. In addition to monitoring their feet, eyes, kidneys and heart for complications, they are more prone to periodontitis. A higher risk of gum disease can make it more difficult to control blood glucose, and can also cause disease and infections in the bones that hold teeth in place, making it more difficult to chew. Gum disease may also lead to tooth loss. Diabetes costs the United States $322 billion in a combination of healthcare fees and lost productivity.

It’s important for employers and employees to understand how oral health plays a part in overall health, and that simple, inexpensive treatment can save businesses and plan participants thousands of dollars and countless hours of pain and suffering.

Analyzing claims data is one way to see how oral health might affect employees. The highest number of claims typically comes from cardiovascular, maternity, diabetes and musculoskeletal claims — all of which are exacerbated by periodontitis.

For years, dental health was given a back seat in health plans, wellness initiatives and employee education. Most initiatives focused on preventing heart disease through diet and exercise, and focused little, if at all, on dental care. Many health plans did not — and still do not — include dental coverage, which is a minimal expense compared to other program costs overall. Consequently, employees may simply write off dental care because they may not have a history of cavities. But dental coverage and consistent employee education and communication can help them understand the risks, develop good habits and begin to take their dental health into their own hands.

Employers can work closely with insurance brokers to understand medical and dental coverage, and what their costs and claims are for both. They’ll likely see that medical claims are far higher than dental claims. They can then work together with benefit consultants to create an affordable dental plan, or bridge the gap between dental and medical for those at higher risk for periodontitis issues so that employees can get the treatment they need.

Finally, employers need a long-term communication strategy to educate employees on the value of benefit offerings and the importance of good oral hygiene. They’ll be happy and healthier, and the employer’s medical costs will decrease.

Everybody wins.