Brushing up on employer-sponsored dental insurance

A man reviews his X-rays at the dentist's office. Dental insurance is one of the top benefits employees look for when seeking employment.

Dental insurance has grown over the years from a rare fringe benefit to a standard offering in many employee health insurance packages. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Employee Health Benefits 2017 Annual Survey, 67 percent of small businesses and 97 percent of large businesses offer dental benefits to their employees.1 It’s easy to see why:  over 80 percent of consumers reported that that dental insurance from an employer is very important.2  

Beyond the need to attract and retain employees, employers are seeing the important connection of oral health to physical and mental health, including associated costs. And, it’s not just the cost of claims. It’s the cost associated with loss of productivity due to absenteeism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 164 million hours of work are lost in the United States each year due to oral health problems or dental visits.

Dental care is whole-body care

Healthy teeth and gums can help prevent certain health risks associated with gum disease and poor oral hygiene. Our mouths can show symptoms related to more than 120 non-dental diseases including diabetes and heart disease – diseases that can escalate costs for employers.3

Maintaining good oral health can be helpful in:

  • Managing diabetes People with diabetes are already at increased risk of developing gum disease. Chronic gum disease may make diabetes more difficult to control.  Blood sugar is harder to control because gum infections can cause insulin resistance.4
  • Preventing heart disease Oral inflammation due to bacteria (gingivitis) may play a role in clogged arteries and blood clots. Individuals with periodontal disease are 1.5 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease.4

Regular preventive dental care can yield cost savings

Research shows that, over a six-year period, employer groups with higher preventive utilization spent more on preventive care but less on major dental services—with a net result of lower overall dental costs.3

Help employees use their dental plan

So, you offer dental insurance, but how do you get your employees to use it?

Dental anxiety is a factor for some, but many employees see cost as a barrier to visiting the dentist on a regular basis. That may be due to lack of knowledge about their dental benefits.

Employers should develop strategies for encouraging employees to use their benefits for routine dental care. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Educate your employees about their dental benefits and send periodic reminders that routine dental care is covered and the amount that’s covered.
  2. Provide communications about the connection between oral health and overall health, including the risks associated with poor oral health.
  3. Advocate for use of in-network dental providers. This can save them money.

Give your dental plan a checkup

If you haven’t reviewed your current dental plan in a while, there are a few things to consider. Start by making sure your dental plan includes benefits that encourage regular preventive care visits. Covering preventive dental services 100 percent and not making them subject to the plan deductible, or counted toward the annual maximum, could help break down any perceptions among employees that they can’t afford to visit the dentist.

Next, find out if your health insurance carrier offers medical plans with embedded preventive dental benefits. Research indicates that 96 percent of health care executives believe that the embedding of dental benefits in medical plans is “already happening or will happen eventually.”5  Insurance companies, like ConnectiCare, are getting onboard and offering the choice of medical plans with embedded pediatric and adult preventive benefits as well as stand-alone comprehensive dental plans.

Is your dental plan meeting your needs and those of your employees? We can help.

Sources: 1. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017 Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey (page 11). 2. Lincoln Financial Group 2017 Dental Research Series: Part 1 – Consumer Insights 3. Guardian Workplace Benefits Study 5TH ANNUAL4. Colgate Professional 5. ADA News: Embedding dental benefits in medical plans is on the way