In order to maintain the most comprehensive knowledge on employee health, dental wellness is taking a more prominent role in wellness programs to determine not just whether employees are maintaining strong oral health, but that their oral health is not indicating more serious illnesses, like heart disease or diabetes.

Rene Milligan, group marketing director at AlwaysCare Benefits and Starmount Life Insurance, says the biggest problem dental wellness faces today is that employee wellness programs and employee communication focus on medical and often omit dental wellness.

Bloomberg/file photo

“Voluntary dental plans, much like employee wellness programs, encourage enrollees to maintain health through good habits and preventative care,” Milligan says. “People with dental insurance are more likely to receive regular dental care and experience greater overall health, according to the NADP [National Association of Dental Plans.]”

Deb Smolensky, health and wellness director at NFP, says dental lacks support from C-suite leaders, and dental carriers lack the communication and programming that medical carriers do, but it has its advantages as well. “There are many positives to including dental in a wellness program, such as it’s easier to measure adherence than medical,” Smolensky says. “Recommendations are that adults should have at least one cleaning or check-up a year. Whereas the medical preventative screenings are based on age, gender and past history, making it extremely hard for most employers to really figure out employee behavior.”

Because of a stronger focus on dental in wellness programs, Dr. David Guarrera, dentist and vice president in group, voluntary and worksite benefits at MetLife, says the data collected from employees who have gone through wellness challenges and check-ups have assisted with improvements to dental insurance to ensure consumers maintain the best coverage.

“Dental has always been one of the top two or three benefits, and [employers] know that their employees, especially younger employees, as more and more millennials dominate the workforce, want dental insurance,” Guarrera says. “[Employees] want services covered that their dentist is recommending, like orthodontic coverage, dental implants and coverage for white fillings, as opposed to the standard amalgam fillings.”

Carryover benefit
Milligan makes several recommendations as to how employees might be encouraged to participate in dental wellness programs, such as a dental carryover benefit.

“A dental carryover benefit is designed to reward dental wellness by providing [employees] with extra benefits in the future,” Milligan says. “Employees can increase their individual annual maximum by a certain amount for the next benefit year when they receive preventative services and submit qualifying claims that are less than the employer group’s threshold amount within one benefit year.”

Although incentivizing employees to participate in wellness programs has been limited by EEOC regulations, Guarrera says employers are more interested in whether the employee population as a whole is getting healthier from wellness program participation. “I think [dental] affects all other attributes of wellness programs,” Guarrera says.

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