Save Lives, Lower Costs: Dental Benefits Help Improve Quality of Life
A small investment with big dividends
We already know that an investment in oral health pays big dividends in employee health and well-being. Typically, dental benefits cost a tenth as much as health benefits, yet can save an organization more than dental claim costs by identifying and preventing conditions that could lead to more costly procedures.
According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, for every $1 spent on prevention in oral healthcare, $8 to $50 is saved in restorative and emergency dental treatment. Additionally, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health estimates that Americans save nearly $4 billion annually in dental bills because of increased emphasis on preventive oral healthcare.
Many employer groups also understand that by providing dental benefits they are also investing in the productivity of their workforce. The U.S. Surgeon General reported that an estimated 164 million work hours are lost each year due to poor dental health. And children lose an estimated 51 million hours of school to dental-related illness, causing more lost work time as parents tend to their children’s needs.
The advantages of regular dental care aren’t limited to the obvious treatment of dental diseases like cavities and gum disease. Dentists are “disease detectives,” identifying signs of serious diseases that may appear in the mouth long before they show up in other parts of the body.
How dental benefits lower health care costs
Because many people visit the dentist more often than a primary care physician, dentists are at the forefront to detect the symptoms of around 120 diseases. Dentists can also monitor the impact of gum disease on health conditions. Recent studies identify gum disease as a risk factor for heart disease; diabetes; and premature, low-birthweight babies.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the mouth can function as an early warning system for disease and can provide a useful means to understanding organs and systems in other parts of the body. This makes routine visits to the dentist critical to disease management.
One of the clearest examples of the life-saving, cost-saving value of regular dental care is in the prevention and detection of oral cancer, one of America’s deadliest diseases. A relatively new diagnostic tool being used by dentists—called the brush biopsy—can catch this cancer in its earliest and precancerous stages. The result? A life is saved and an average $200,000 in medical treatment costs (the average spent for advanced oral cancer) may be avoided.
Smile: healthy mouth, healthy body
Working hand in hand with medical science, dentistry expands our knowledge of the connection between oral health and general health and encourages us to seek additional ways to enhance the role of the dental professional in helping individuals, and their employers, promote wellness and effective disease management.
All of this translates into helping employers manage healthcare costs and maintain a healthy workforce. There isn’t an easy solution to the complexity of the healthcare cost issue, but one thing we can do is catch and treat health problems before they become life threatening.
| ||Jed J. Jacobson, DDS, MS, MPH, is vice president of professional services and dental director at the affiliated Delta Dental Plans of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. |