Monday, July 14, 2008

Health Care and Good Employee Teeth

Going to the dentist takes time. If you're a working man or woman, you typically will need to miss time away from the office or your jobsite when you go to your appointment. Even if you only go for a cleaning once every six months, that still counts as time missed for productivity that otherwise would be beneficial towards your economic betterment. However, not going to the dentist for even minor preventive procedures will definitely result in more serious oral health issues later that require even a greater amount of time missed from work.

According to a report this month 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. 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.

Dental insurance coverage can influence people's decisions to use dental care. During 1996, 42.9% of all dental expenditures were paid by private dental insurance. During 1997, less than 50% of Americans visited a dental office. Americans made approximately 292 million dental visits and received approximately $30 billion worth of dental care, of which $10 billion was paid by insurers, $17 billion was paid out of pocket and $1.6 billion was not reimbursed. National data shows that, even with dental insurance, out-of-pocket expenses for dental care are about 50% of the total cost as reported by the study.

Here are some amazing stats offered by the Dental Aid website:
--95% of all Americans are afflicted by oral disease. Oral Cancer is more common than leukemia, melanoma of the skin, Hodgkin's disease and cancers of the brain, liver, bone, stomach, thyroid gland, ovaries or cervix.
--Lost work due to dental problems equates to 164,000 American workers off the job for the entire year.
--140 million Americans do not have dental insurance.
--Upon retiring, 85% of Americans have no dental insurance.

Employee Benefit News goes on to say that studies increasingly demonstrate the health and cost implications of oral illness to well-known chronic illnesses. Poor oral health impacts diabetes, heart disease, stroke, prenatal health, pneumonia and brittle bone disease in women. Common medications for blood pressure and mood disorders can harm oral health. Dental care costs exceeded the costs for cancer and diabetes.

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. The information about these statistics has been made available in the Employee Benefit News Survey.

The Health and Human Services Department states that oral diseases can affect individuals, their family, the community, and society as a whole. Oral health problems can affect a person's ability to maintain a job or get promotions. They can also contribute to lowered academic achievement and goals. These effects have increased likelihood when a deformity due to the oral health condition is involved. Families may be affected if an individual cannot perform household functions or play his or her usual role in the family due to an oral health condition. Since some population groups bear a heavier burden of oral disease than others, the effects on these communities may be more pronounced than on the population as a whole.

The website for Employee Benefit News continues its overview of dental health and employee behavior. Healthy behaviors that support oral health go far beyond a healthy smile. 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.

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 dental plan at affordable rates will help reduce the problems associated with employees who have problems related to poor oral health.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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