How literate are you on dental care?

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Employees who lack information on oral health can often incur costly dental and health care claims, according to Al Lewis, a health and wellness expert who founded Quizzify. That’s why so-called dental literacy in the workplace can be so important.

Unfortunately, the knowledge gap concerning oral health seems to be widening.

In its latest consumer survey, the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) found that only 39% of respondents realized the link between oral health and particular medical conditions, compared to 52% in 2015.

That presents an opportunity for benefit brokers and advisers who can help clients boost employee knowledge, and, in turn, potentially create cost savings and better outcomes. Strategies include an employee education campaign and simple benefits changes that would likely be cost neutral.

One reason Lewis believes the dental-care knowledge gap is so wide is that there's not as much information immediately available online for dental health as there is for general health.

NADP Executive Director Evelyn Ireland concurs, explaining that less than a quarter of people search for information on dental health on a regular basis while a third never do.

About 75% of survey respondents said their dentist is their chief source of oral health information, while 40% cited the American Dental Association (ADA), whose consumer website is Only 7% of working respondents said they trust their employer for information on oral health.

That’s where brokers and advisers come in. These suggestions from Lewis and others can help your clients boost dental literacy in their workplaces.

Incorporate oral health into overall wellness programs. Many NADP members have a website featuring basic oral health information that they make available to employers, Ireland says. “To the extent that employers have wellness activities, certainly oral health information should be incorporated with other health information they're providing,” she says.

Help bust dental myths. With the right information employers can help clear up costly misconceptions about dental care. For example, says Lewis, contrary to conventional wisdom, not everyone needs to get their teeth cleaned twice a year. Nor do all cavities, especially in young children, need to be drilled and filled.

In addition, chewing gum can actually be beneficial to dental health (as long as it’s sugar free) while over-the-counter insomnia remedies are often detrimental, causing dry mouth, which can lead to gum disease.

Lewis hopes to dispel some common dental myths through his company’s healthcare trivia platform.

Consider plan changes based on the best information. About half the population does fine on just one preventive visit a year, while 25% to 35% require three or four annual teeth cleanings, according to Lewis, citing a study published in the Journal of Dental Research.

As a result, Lewis recommends dental benefit plans cover 100% of the first cleaning and 75% to 80% for additional cleanings within the same year for those who need them. It will cost roughly the same or less than paying for twice-annual cleanings for all covered lives, Lewis estimates. Multiple cleanings may be necessary for people with gum disease and those who had extensive dental work, as well as smokers, tobacco chewers, diabetics and mouth breathers.

Other areas of coverage Lewis suggests employers examine include silver diamine fluoride treatment for cavities in lieu of drilling and filling and a more conservative approach to wisdom teeth extractions.

Oral health is hugely underrated for both its effect on prevention and productivity, Lewis says. “Try working with a toothache. It just isn’t possible,” he adds. A prudent preventive-care strategy for dental benefits “would capture more of the people who are going to be causing problems down the road,” he adds.

There’s a compelling cost-benefit analysis to educating workforces about dental care, according to Lewis. “If people are retaining the information, then they’re making more informed choices about the use of their dental benefits,” he says.

This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit Adviser.
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Dental insurance Adviser strategies Benefit management