Feb 14, 2017

Sometimes Forgotten: The Importance of Dental Care

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Many businesses, employee benefits consultants, and more keep discussing population health management, yet they leave out an important part of the healthcare delivery system. Preventative care might be emphasized more than ever, with wellness rewards programs incentivizing individuals for healthy actions.

Though they provide critical preventive services that have wide-ranging impacts on individuals’ health, dental care providers are still, in many cases, not a central part of the health maintenance ecosystem.

On the consumer side, dentists have been fighting a bad rap for decades. Separate insurance protocols, which often require significant out-of-pocket expenses, along with inadequate patient education and negative perceptions about treatment options and the potential for discomfort, have contributed to cultural stereotypes of the dentist’s office as a place to fear, dread, and avoid.

But dodging or delaying dental care can have significant impacts on overall patient wellness, and may lead to more expensive, invasive, and painful procedures down the line. Dentists can act as the first line of defense for the prevention and detection of oral cancers, gum disease that results in bone loss, and difficult-to-treat infections that start in the teeth and jaws.

They can also contribute significantly to the health system’s understanding of socioeconomic patterns of chronic disease and patient activation, since poor oral health often goes hand-in-hand with lower levels of education, restricted access to care, and lower rates of health insurance coverage.

We strongly believe that a good dental program is critical to any strong employee benefit offering. AWANE makes it easy: convenient reimbursement, no paperwork or long forms, freedom of choice, and much more. It is also important to continually educate employees about their benefit offerings, and how to use them to maximize compliance, engagement, and overall better health.

Privately insured consumers access dental care more than twice as often as the uninsured, and they are 20 percent more likely to have regular contact with a dentist than those using public insurance programs, which may contribute to long-term disparities in outcomes for certain cancers.

With dental caries and periodontal disease ranking as two of the most common chronic conditions among children and adults, surpassing the national rate of diabetes, it may be time for the healthcare industry to reassess the position of dentists and other oral healthcare providers within the population health management environment in order to deliver truly comprehensive care to patients.

Oral health also has behavioral and emotional impacts, as patients with significant dental problems may feel hesitant to engage in common social situations requiring a laugh or a smile, may be more likely to turn to opioids or other substances to self-medicate painful conditions, and might suffer from increased anxiety or depression over looming debts exacerbated by delays in care.

While the healthcare industry as a whole still has a long way to go before dental care and medical care are no longer perceived as separate institutions, the growing recognition among payers and providers that the mouth is indeed connected to the rest of the body bodes well for increased care coordination.

Adding oral healthcare to the overarching list of population health management priorities may help achieve the goals of value-based care while cutting costs, improving outcomes, and delivering comprehensive care services to their most vulnerable and high-risk patients.

Since 1929, AWANE has provided businesses in the automotive, roads, fuel, and related industries with best in class employee benefits solutions, a voice in legislative issues, unparalleled administrative support, and much more.

For more information about the AWANE Dental Program and all of our employee benefits solutions, please contact us today. Find out why 99% of our members stay with us year after year, and enjoy our association strength and “power in numbers.”