How employee oral health impacts your business
Poor health costs the U.S. economy about 45 billion1 annually from lost productivity associated with pain or missing workdays due to untreated oral diseases2. For a business to thrive and succeed, it must make its employees’ health a priority. After all, oral health has a direct connection to overall health — both having a major impact on workplace productivity.
For that reason, it’s important to foster a corporate culture that promotes oral health in addition to overall wellness to boost employee engagement and the bottom line. By addressing the oral health and well-being of employees, an organization can enhance the working environment, make employees feel valued, and reduce indirect costs stemming from poor health — like missing workdays and reduced work capacity due to oral pain.
What is employee health?
Employee health refers to the overall physical and mental state of employees. Oral pain has been associated with a variety of factors that may lead to adverse psychosocial consequences3. One of a company’s most important assets is its people. Their health can directly influence the overall success of a company, affecting how an organization is equipped to meet adversity, overcome challenges, and progress. When employees enjoy good physical and mental health, they are more likely to perform well and be more productive. Actively promoting employee overall wellness can also enhance a company's image in the eyes of customers and competitors.
The connection between oral health and overall health of the body4
Oral bacteria and inflammation associated with severe gum disease (periodontitis) can play a role in some diseases and conditions outside of the mouth. These issues may contribute to a number of serious diseases and conditions, including but not limited to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia, and adverse pregnancy and birth complications.
In turn, many systemic diseases and conditions can directly affect oral health or one’s ability to maintain good oral hygiene and prevent oral diseases. These include Alzheimer’s disease, osteoarthritis, some physical disabilities, Multiple Sclerosis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and chronic kidney disease, among others5. Finally, numerous systemic diseases first present, or can be identified, based on changes within the oral cavity. A dental exam may aid in determining the existence of an underlying systemic problem and allow for earlier intervention by a physician.
Why dental benefits are needed for a healthy workplace6
In the United States, almost 321 million hours of work and school are lost per year due to dental problems with emergency dental treatment accounting for 92.4 million of those hours7. Oral health is intrinsic to overall health and well-being, yet national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows nearly half of U.S. adults over age 30 have periodontal (gum) disease, and 90% have tooth decay. Whether someone experiences a toothache or a serious dental problem, oral health issues can lead to loss of productivity, missed workdays, and poor employee morale. Ultimately, all of these factors can lead to significant costs for a company.
There are several ways preventive dental care benefits both employees and employers, including:
- Increase productivity: Chronic oral pain is significantly associated with productivity loss at work and can also cause adults to leave work early or call in sick. In addition, dental emergencies are estimated to result in over 34 million school hours lost by children annually. Organizations that offer competitive dental benefits, including family dental plans, improve their employees’ and their families’ quality of life, which allows them to better focus on their work at hand.
- Lower medical and insurance costs: Both employers and employees save money with preventive dental coverage. Regular dental visits can help detect changes in oral health, such as gum disease or tooth decay. By catching the condition early, employees can spend less on dental care upfront and avoid expensive procedures down the road. Organizations can save money when renewing dental insurance plans because their employees are healthier.
- Enhance brand reputation: Offering quality and competitive dental coverage sets your organization apart from competitors by showing that you are invested in your employees’ health.
Encourage the use of dental benefits
Promoting oral health habits can encourage employees to implement positive lifestyle changes that will reduce the likelihood of chronic problems. It’s also important for employers to make sure their employees understand their dental benefits package. Closing this information gap is critical, so employees can make well-informed decisions when planning their oral health care with their dentists.
Here are several ways to encourage employees to leverage their dental benefits:
- Give frequent reminders by letting employees know the importance of visiting the dentists and maintaining their oral health.
- Gather employee feedback on dental benefits.
- Help employees take advantage of eligible but unutilized dental benefits when they may have serious oral health conditions.
- Make sure to communicate to employees any new benefits or changes to existing benefits. You can also involve your employees in any changes you make to the dental health policies — demonstrating their opinions are valued.
- Talk to your dental insurance carrier about adding an oral health component to the company’s overall wellness program.
Without a doubt, both employers and employees would greatly benefit from focusing on oral health issues. Prioritizing the oral health of employees can help your organization show its commitment to a healthy working environment. After all, poor oral health has a much wider impact on general overall health than you may think.
Providing comprehensive dental coverage can be an opportunity for employers to differentiate themselves in the recruitment and retention process, in addition to promoting good oral health in the workplace. However, employers must communicate to their employees how the dental plan works and its value. Employees are more likely to enroll in a dental plan when they understand how to use it and how much money the plan will save them in the long run.
1 Righolt AJ, Jevdjevic M, Marcenes W, Listl S. Global-, regional-, and country-level economic impacts of dental diseases in 2015. J Dent Res. 2018;97(5):501–507.
2 Factors associated with oral pain and oral health-related productivity loss in the USA, National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), 2015–2018.
3 United States. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (US). Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2000.
4 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, October 28). Oral Health: A window to your overall health. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475.
5 Winning, L., Linden, G. Periodontitis and systemic disease. BDJ Team 2, 15163 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/bdjteam.2015.163.
6 Naavaal S, and Kelekar U. School Hours Lost Due to Acute/Unplanned Dental Care — National Household Interview Survey. Health Behav Policy Rev.™ 2018;5(2):66-73.
7 Kelekar U, Naavaal S. Peer Reviewed: Hours Lost to Planned and Unplanned Dental Visits Among US Adults. 2018;15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772383/.