Should You Subsidize Your Employees' Dental Plans?

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As the issue of employee wellness gains more attention form corporate leaders, investing in employee health has become more important than ever. Thanks to evidence that suggests that employee well-being is tied to commercial success – like a recent Edenred study that found 97 percent of employers agree that good health is linked to business outcomes – more employers are feeling increased pressure to support employee wellness.

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One often overlooked aspect of employee health is oral hygiene – which many of us aren't great at. In fact, a quarter of Brits and about a third of Americans do not brush the recommended twice per day. Are too many of us neglecting our oral health?

In the last ten years, there has been a flood of research linking poor oral health to far more serious issues. Research shows that inflammation may be the link between poor oral health and associated conditions. Chronic inflammation of the mouth is damaging to cells and the DNA they contain. Gum disease leads to the seal of the tooth loosening, and each time you brush, bacteria is pushed further into the body and inflammation is triggered.

Poor oral health can actually be deadly – it has been linked to heart disease and cancer.

Dental Care and the Workplace

You may not realize it, but your employees' dental problems are your problem, too. For example, business in the UK lost an estimated £36.6 million ($47.8 million) in 2014 as a result of employees taking off time to deal with dental problems.

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Furthermore, people who suffer from poor oral health don't just run the risk of developing serious health problems. Tooth decay and subsequent tooth loss can cripple a person's self-confidence. This lack of confidence is seen to have a detrimental impact on people's careers. A survey by the British Dental Association found that 62 percent of people felt that individuals with visibly decayed teeth, missing teeth, or bad breath could miss out on jobs as result. Six in ten participants said that tooth decay can hinder promotion prospects.

Jamie Newlands of the Berkeley Clinic, a Glasgow-based dental implant practice, is clear about how poor oral health impacts his patients' lives: "My patients visit with their confidence shaken due to severe decay, but [they] have avoided check-ups and treatment due to the perceived cost."

Newlands adds that "a subsidized service would encourage patients to seek help before health and well-being problems escalate."

Employees Need Dental Discounts

Employers should see it as their duty to support their employees' dental health because healthier, more confident employees are more productive, effective employees. Furthermore, reports show that investing in employee health contributes positively to an employer's brand perception and staff commitment, and it can reduce turnover.

In a survey from dental and health benefits provider Munroe Sutton, 57 percent of participants revealed they would visit the dentist twice a year if they had help with their dental costs. The participants in the survey were willing to pay £15 ($20) a month toward a personal dental plan and £20 ($26) a month for a plan that included their families. Nearly half of all participants felt their plans would have more value if they helped save money on cosmetic treatments, too.

The survey showed the main things employees want from employers when it comes to dental care are:

- voluntary dental plans;

- time off to visit the dentist;

- coverage of elective cosmetic treatment;

- coverage for family members;

- and a plan that makes it easy to find a dentist.

Public Health Is a Priority

Aside from the benefits of good dental health in the workplace, employers should also be aware that poor dental hygiene could be very dangerous for the nation overall. Currently, many people are skipping dental appointments because they can't afford them. As mentioned above, this could cause a public health crisis that leads to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, and other nasty ailments.

If one thing is clear from the studies cited above, it's that employees are in need of greater dental health support from their employers. It will be good for your employees, good for your business, and good for society.

Suzanne Vallance is an industry writer from Glasgow, Scotland.