Dental is the second most requested benefit after medical, but it is often overlooked in benefit discussions. Comparable to life insurance, employees tend to instinctively choose dental, even when it’s a voluntary benefit. For employers, offering dental is easy and almost automatic when it comes to choosing group benefits. However, there are considerations for employers to bear in mind when it comes to selecting the right dental coverage.

A dental plan does more for its members than just encourage dental hygiene and treatment. A good plan that employees understand and utilize well can decrease the chances that employees will miss work due to untreated dental health issues.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

A report from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research shows that nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay, and according to estimates from the FDI World Dental Federation, oral diseases result in 2.4 million days of work lost in the United States each year. Absences can cost employers millions in lost productivity and wages. In other words, dental benefits are a sought after employee benefit that actually also affect employers’ bottom lines.

What should employers think about when selecting their next dental plan?

Remember that the network breadth and size is an important part of the plan benefits. Larger dental networks have many advantages for both employers and members. The larger the network, the less disruption employees will face if their employer changes dental carriers. If the new carrier has a large network, employees’ dentists are more likely to remain in-network under the new dental coverage. In order to understand the potential impact, employers can request a Disruption Report from their new carrier to see how many of their employees’ dentists are in- or out-of-network.

When considering network size, it’s important to work with a carrier that is consistently expanding their dental network. However, a large network without the right dentists might as well be a small one. What matters most is the dentist that the employee sees, and if that dentist is in the carrier’s network. Some carriers offer personalized, targeted, recruiting efforts, with a strong emphasis on the dentists that employees are already using.

The network of one

If it’s important to an employer that personalized recruitment take place, they should look for a carrier that offers monthly updates on recruitment activity for the group. The updates should include some details around who was called, if contact was made, and whether or not that dentist is considering or has agreed to join the carrier’s network. Recruitment efforts for a carrier can vary from simple phone outreach to actually having local recruiters make “house calls” and talk to dentists.

No matter how large the network, employees are most concerned with the “network of one.” Is my dentist in-network? A large dental network gives members access to more providers, and specifically, more options close to home, work, or wherever is most convenient. When employees are able to go to an in-network dentist they trust, they are more likely to stay on top of the recommended biannual cleanings and address dental care as needed. Proactive dental care contributes to fewer dental emergencies or other dental issues that might require frequent, intermittent absences, as well as preventing “presenteeism” (employees working sub-optimally due to illness).

Using an in-network provider is also typically lower cost, often with 20 to 30% discounts off the billed charges. Additionally, all in-network dentists go through a credentialing process to make sure their licenses are current and in good standing. This provides employees an extra level of confidence when selecting their dentist.

As an employer, have you asked how many unique providers are in your dental network and what the utilization of in network providers is for your employees? It’s worth finding out if your employees are unwittingly going to out-of-network providers and potentially spending more on dental services. This may be reason enough for you to offer a dental plan with a larger network.

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