When choosing a benefits plan, pay attention to dental

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Print this page By Dr. Quinn Dufurrena, chief dental officer for United Concordia Dental
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When employers design their employee benefits packages, they tend to ask themselves similar questions:

• How much can we afford to spend on employee benefits?

• Where will that spending have the most positive impact in terms of helping us attract and retain workers?

• How can we ensure that our people are as healthy and productive as possible?

Understandably, most companies think first of their medical benefits when making these assessments. Health insurance requires a large financial investment and has a significant impact on employees and their dependents.

But based on the findings of several recent studies, employers in Virginia and across the country should also be paying close attention to their dental benefits plans.

Specifically, they should be encouraging employees to make more use of those benefits, and looking for ways to integrate them with their medical offerings.

According to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) consumer survey, 16 percent of respondents haven’t had any dental work done in the past three years.

Among Virginia residents, only about 70 percent of those with dental benefits said they’ve seen the dentist in the past year.

Those of us in the dental insurance industry have tried to identify the factors that keep people from going to the dentist, and we’ve found several.

One is a lack of education or awareness. While the importance of preventive medical checkups and screenings is well-established, many don’t apply the same thinking when it comes to their oral care. Too often, people don’t seek dental care until something is hurting them.

Another factor is that people are afraid it’s going to hurt. While going to the dentist isn’t always a pleasant experience, advances in care have made it a lot more comfortable than people believe. It’s certainly more comfortable than the pain that comes when dental problems are left untreated.

Going to the dentist regularly is an important part of maintaining your overall health. For example, an estimated 74 percent of Americans will have gum disease at some point in their lives. But very few will seek treatment for it.

We have conducted research that shows there may be associations between untreated gum disease and other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.

An estimated 50 percent of Americans are living with at least one chronic health condition, so the impact of foregoing regular dental treatment can be widespread.

As responsible employers who want their employees to be healthy and productive, it’s important to identify and remove the barriers that keep people from seeking preventive oral care. Here are some approaches Virginia employers should consider:

• Encourage your employees to use their dental benefits. As with regular medical checkups, prevention is the key to optimal outcomes. Identifying oral health problems early and treating them before they get worse is wise advice.

• Think of your dental plan as an integral part of your medical benefits offerings. Good oral health is part of a person’s overall wellness. A professional collaboration between dentists and doctors can provide valuable, coordinated information that leads to better health outcomes for the patient.

• Consider adding an oral care component to your company’s wellness program. While you’re incentivizing employees to exercise more, quit smoking, lose weight and reduce stress, also promote the importance of receiving regular dental checkups.

An integrated approach that connects medical and dental can deliver wellness programs that benefit everyone, while providing targeted outreach to people who need more attention. Many employers are moving in this direction, with more likely to follow.

Dr. Quinn Dufurrena is chief dental officer for United Concordia Dental, which delivers dental solutions to more than 8.5 million members.

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