Pam Whelan explains what intermediaries should know about the wider benefits of promoting good dental health.
More than 300 diseases have early warning signs in the mouth, among the most serious of which are diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and strokes.
Research suggests that poor oral health can be a contributing factor, with significant links between inflammation of gums and its effects on serious diseases. This is because bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream through cavities and inflamed gums (known as Periodontitis), which 43% of adults suffer from in the UK.
Dental professionals are in a unique situation, because they see ‘healthy’ patients every single day for routine dental care and treatment. This gives them the unique ability to help encourage greater personal responsibility among individuals to manage their oral health, and develop healthy behaviours that help reduce the onset of long-term conditions.
Dental problems will not only affect people’s ability to eat, sleep, work and socialise effectively, but may contribute to lifelong oral and general health problems. This is why it is so important that companies encourage their employees to look after their oral health as a way to positively influence general health.
The bigger picture
With an ageing population, we are seeing more and more signs of periodontal disease. The cost to the economy has been estimated at £2.8bn (ATP Consulting Ltd (2008). Adult Periodontal Disease Cost Analysis, a report commissioned by Listerine) based on the rate of work absence for dental problems.
This is not only causing a significant cost to companies, but is also completely avoidable with proper oral healthcare, signifying the importance of the role dentists can play in preventive healthcare.
Responsibility and duty of care
With 6% of all adults in the UK developing diabetes, it is worth remembering that good oral healthcare could not only contribute to prevention, but also to early diagnosis and treatment.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is another significant risk, accounting for nearly 30% of all deaths. According to research by the British Heart Foundation, the UK has one of the highest rates of deaths from CVD in Europe and a major factor in this is obesity. While treatment of CVD has improved dramatically, in a culture where obesity is growing, it is even more vital for dentists to report anything unusual in the mouth to the patient.
While responsibility is ultimately down to the person, duty of care also falls on employers. A recent study showed 93% of employees said they have not received any information on the importance of maintaining good oral health from their employer.
It is not implausible to suggest that unforeseen absenteeism in the workplace could be reduced if businesses placed as much importance on the dental wellbeing of their employees as they do on their general health.
Prevention is better than cure
Relaying these oral health messages, however, still requires something of a mind-shift, both among the public and corporate sphere. For example, dental insurance continues to be viewed as a benefit set apart from overall healthcare benefits.
However, dental is one of the few preventive healthcare benefits open to employees, because benefits such as PMI are used to treat illness: not to help prevent illness from occurring.
It’s always better to stop problems before they start and regular dental attendance can help reduce the need for future treatments like fillings, route canal treatment and crowns. Research has revealed that 44% of regular dentist attendees in the UK would delay or cancel their dental appointments if they started to feel the pinch on their purse strings.
However, regular dental check-ups reduce the risk of dental emergencies from occurring and help ensure a lifetime of good oral and general health. Interestingly, people lucky enough to have a dental benefit through their work are far less likely to cancel or delay their appointments.
Easy to use and valued
Employee health and wellbeing has increased dramatically in importance for companies and many employers have recognised the impact a healthy workforce has on motivation and performance.
The proportion of companies offering a dental plan to their employees has risen significantly compared with last year, reaching nearly half (51%) in large companies. However, the challenge for companies is to select a provider who will help them engage with employees to influence behaviour, while still being appropriate for their budgets.
As an intermediary, it is important to ensure that the proposition you offer your clients can benefit all of their employees. Childcare vouchers, for example, are a great benefit to offer, but of course they exclude the percentage of employees without children.
However, 68% per cent of adults go to the dentist at least once every year, so the percentage of employees taking up this benefit is potentially much higher than some other benefits. You can also expect this figure to rise as offering a dental benefit will also encourage those people who do not regularly attend the dentist to do so.