Benefits employers and employees can smile about

Some adults are petrified of seeing the dentist, but it’s their employers who should be scared if workers don’t attend regular check-ups. A handful of dental companies are working with employers to make oral care easily accessible to busy workers.

The American Dental Association recommends visiting the dentist every six months for optimal oral health, but 22.9% of adults don’t plan on visiting the dentist at all — according to a study by the organization. Why? Among adults with employer-sponsored insurance, two of the main reasons for choosing not to visit the dentist were lack of time for an appointment and the belief visits are unnecessary with a healthy mouth, the study notes.

“A lot of people want to go to the dentist, they just don’t remember or life gets in the way,” says Ashley Walsh, senior marketing director at Virtudent, a tele-dentistry company. “They schedule an appointment and a meeting comes up or they have to travel for work, then the dentist is full for the next month or two.”

Two dental practices are making it easier for employees to receive bi-annual cleanings by bringing the dentist to corporate offices. Boston-based Virtudent converts their clients’ conference rooms into dental offices for the day, reducing the commute time from desk to conference room. During Virtudent sessions, dental hygienists perform routine cleanings and take x-rays and scans, which are sent to one of their tele-dentists for examination. If the patient needs a filling, or more serious procedure, they’re referred to brick and mortar dental offices. Virtudent serves more than150 companies around the country; their largest customer is Wayfair.

“We want to make it as convenient as possible for working adults to access preventative care,” Walsh says. “If you don’t have to leave the office for coffee, why should you for your dentist appointment?”

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New Jersey-based HENRY The Dentist also makes workplace visits — curbside. The company fits every component of a brick and mortar dentist office into an RV, so patients can have cavities filled or teeth extracted onsite — should they need it — in addition to regular cleanings and orthodontia care. Some of their largest clients include Unilever, ADP, Audible and CNBC.

“If someone wants to go to the dentist on Tuesday, it’s going to take about four hours when you factor in the time it takes to travel to the office, dealing with insurance and waiting to be seen,” says Alexandria Ketcheson, co-founder and chief brand officer of HENRY The Dentist. “Whereas with us, we’ll have you back at your desk within an hour.”

To help make the experience more comfortable for those who are apprehensive about visiting the dentist, HENRY provides patients with noise-cancelling headphones with access to Netflix, HBO and audiobooks to distract them. Dental staff also refrain from wearing traditional lab coats to help patients feel more comfortable.

“Fear is a big reason why people don’t go to the dentist,” Ketcheson says. “With us they can just pop on headphones and take their mind off what’s happening in their mouth.”

Both Virtudent and HENRY The Dentist representatives said their services accept employer-sponsored insurance; there’s no additional cost to employers or their workforce for worksite visits. Ketcheson and Walsh say employers may see their health claims costs rise if more employees take advantage of their insurance, but that means workers are enjoying the service.

“It’s a good employee retention and acquisition tool,” Ketcheson says. “The Googles and Amazons have the budget to put in onsite cafes and gyms; other businesses can’t afford to do that, but they can set themselves apart by offering unique services already covered by insurance.”

And employers should be concerned that employees might not be taking advantage of their dental benefits because of these roadblocks.

Oral health problems can become exponentially more expensive the longer they go without care. Prices differ by area, but a simple cavity filling costs on average around $150, according to Nerd Wallet. Left untreated, that cavity can deteriorate the tooth’s interior; treatment typically requires a root canal and crown, which costs about $2,000 combined.

Regular dental visits not only maintain beautiful smiles, they can help prevent major health issues. Studies are increasingly showing severe gum disease is linked to the onset of diabetes and strokes, according to the American Dental Association.

“There’s a lot of proof that dental and total body health are super related,” says Alex Frommeyer, co-founder and CEO of Beam, a dental insurance company that provides members with free brushing kits. “The best way to control healthcare costs is to control dental health.”

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