Word of Mouth

Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

The truth about amalgam fillings

Dental exam

When an employee needs a tooth filled, the dentist can perform this procedure by using a metal-based amalgam or a composite material. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently advised against the use of dental amalgam in high-risk groups. What do these recommendations mean for your employees? Let’s consider the facts about amalgam.

What is the case against dental amalgam?

Amalgam fillings contain a mixture of mercury and a powdered alloy containing silver, tin and copper.

In its recommendations released Sept. 24, 2020, the FDA suggested that certain groups of people, including pregnant and nursing women, children under 6 and people with allergy, pre-existing neurological disease or impaired kidney function may experience harmful effects of mercury exposure.

The FDA cited “uncertainties about the acceptable reference exposure levels for mercury vapor” and the potential for negative health outcomes. The FDA did not cite any new scientific evidence for this position.

What is Delta Dental’s position on dental amalgam?

Amalgam is a long-lasting, clinically effective tooth restorative material and has a proven track record of over 150 years. Based on the scientific evidence available, amalgam fillings do not pose a health risk to children or adults, except the small group of people who are allergic to the metal components of amalgam.

The mercury in fillings is safe in its bound form. When it breaks down, however, mercury can be released as vapor. Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor — higher than those in fillings — can cause damage to the kidneys and brain, according to industrial studies.

Make sure your employees, who may be in risk groups or otherwise have health concerns, know that they have treatment options. The use of amalgam has declined, due to application of alternative materials, according to the recent FDA statement.

There are no changes to Delta Dental’s coverage of restorative treatments such as amalgam and composite fillings.

When should amalgam fillings be removed?

The FDA advises against removing or replacing existing amalgam fillings that are in good condition unless medically necessary. This aligns with Delta Dental’s recommendation.

If an employee has an amalgam filling in good condition, with no nearby decay present in the tooth, the filling should not be removed. Removal may result in loss of tooth structure and unnecessarily releases mercury vapor.

If, however, amalgam removal is warranted, dental offices are required to follow a 2017 ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding procedures and disposal, so your employees can have it safely done.

Why dentist offices are safe

As your employees consider a visit to the dentist, they may be concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus. Fortunately, the steps that dentists take to protect themselves, their staff and their patients from COVID-19 means that a trip to the dentist is actually quite safe. Here are the facts.

Dentists do all they can to make their office safe

As health care professionals, dentists and their staff follow strict infection control protocol. Over 99% of dentists have implemented enhanced infection prevention and control processes, according to the American Dental Association.

That hard work has certainly paid off; fewer than 1% of dentists nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the same study. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that dentists spend their days working on people’s mouths!

Here’s how dentists have accomplished this feat:

  • New technology has become more common as dentists’ offices have adapted to the realities of the pandemic. That means when people visit the dentist, they can expect to see machines like air purifiers, high-volume evacuators, infrared thermometers and hand sanitizer stations.
  • New processes such as rinses with disinfecting mouthwash and enhanced suction during cleanings and exams are now the norm at many dentists’ offices. These strategies help inactivate viruses in patients’ mouths and droplets in the air, allowing dentists to help fight the spread of infection. Dentists may also rely on teledentistry for exams rather than have patients come into the office.
  • New policies like having patients wait in the car to be seen and seeing fewer patients concurrently help reduce the risk of infection as well. The less time patients spend in the office and the fewer things they touch while there means less chance of exposure to COVID-19.

The steps take not prevent the spread of COVID-19 will vary from dentist office to office, but for a more in-depth overview of what your employees can expect, refer them to Grin!, our enrollee wellness e‑magazine.

Why employees might not want to visit the dentist (and why they should)

When people explain why they don’t want to go to the dentist during the pandemic, there are a few common reasons. It’s natural to have concerns about safety and costs, but it’s also important to realize that there are risks when it comes to avoiding the dentist as well.

  • “I want to socially distance as much as possible until I’ve been vaccinated.” This is a perfectly valid concern. At the same time, a visit to the dentist carries less risk of exposure than visiting other indoor areas. Dentists have the tools and training to minimize the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus.
  • “I don’t want to sit in a crowded waiting room.” The good news is, dentists don’t want people sitting in crowded waiting rooms, either! That’s why they’ve taken steps like having patients wait in their cars, seeing fewer patients at a given time and removed waiting room furniture.
  • “I’m not in any pain, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” People who wait until they’re in pain to go to the dentist likely have issues such as severe cavities or infected root canals that could have been avoided if they’d gone in for regular cleanings and exams. Taking advantage of the diagnostic and preventive care offered with Delta Dental plans can help catch oral health issues before they become serious, and that helps to keep pain and costs down.
  • “My teeth look fine, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” It’s possible to develop oral health issues that aren’t obvious when looking in the bathroom mirror. Going to a dentist to detect issues like gum disease is important. Additionally, there are serious health issues that can have oral symptoms, such as diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. A visit to the dentist can help detect these issues as well.
  • “I’m too busy to spend time finding a dentist or making it into the office.” It can be hard to find time away from work or school to make it to the dentist. Fortunately, teledentistry has made it easier than ever before to connect with oral health professionals from the comfort of your home or office. Additionally, Delta Dental will soon offer tools that can connect members with a Delta Dental PPO™ dentist for a dental diagnostic report or video consultation.

Don’t be afraid to go to the dentist

When it comes to the dentist’s office, your employees can rest easy knowing that they can stay safe and healthy when it’s time for a visit. That’s sure to be a smile on their face.

5 ways Delta Dental is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Delta Dental is working to support our customers, dentists and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the ways we’re responding to this health and financial crisis.

1. Charitable giving to vital services

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has provided nearly $15 million this year to help nonprofits respond to the pandemic. These unrestricted grant funds have supported essential services, including dozens of dental and medical clinics serving low-income communities across our 15-state service area and the District of Columbia.

To help feed vulnerable communities during skyrocketing food insecurity, we’ve also contributed $2.5 million to food banks in Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

2. Dentist loan program

Partnering with Provide (formerly known as Lendeavor), Delta Dental has offered over $300 million in loan programs to provide economic relief for qualifying independent network dentists.

The loan program, which extends through the end of the year, covers cash flow relief as well as interest savings. It also includes loans that dentists can use to acquire, refinance, expand or equip a practice, as well as to acquire or refinance commercial real estate for a practice.

3. Relief for groups, individuals and brokers

We’ve offered various forms of premium relief to all lines of our business to help alleviate the financial strain of the pandemic on our individual customers and group clients. To provide further support, we’ve made adjustments to many of our contract policies to help clients weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

4. PPE and infection control reimbursement for dentists

The new costs of practicing during a pandemic have added to the financial strain on our network dentists. To help, Delta Dental launched a supplemental reimbursement program for network dentists.

The temporary program, which runs through the end of the year, is meant to help dentists adjust to the new conditions under COVID-19 as they plan for 2021. Under the program, network dentists receive an additional $10 per patient per qualifying service to help cover the costs of additional personal protective equipment and other infection control practices.

5. Teledentistry resources

Delta Dental has encouraged dentists and patients to consider teledentistry options for diagnostic and emergency dental services. Teledentistry, or virtual consultation via phone, text or video, offers a safe, convenient choice and can expand access to care for patients who might otherwise not see a dentist.

We’re offering discounts and free trials on HIPAA-compliant teledentistry services to Delta Dental dentists and are building partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for our customers and network dentists.

Teledentistry 101: the virtual office visit

As businesses, schools and organizations continue to adapt to COVID-19, dental offices are embracing new conferencing tools to deliver care safely.

As part of the reopening efforts, more dentists and their patients have turned to teledentistry, an emerging trend that has the power to reshape the industry as we know it. Approximately 25% of dentists reported using some form of virtual, limited evaluation of patients, according to an April COVID-19 economic tracking poll from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. In July, the HPI poll showed usage slipping to 12%, noting that larger group practices are more likely to use teledentistry than solo practices.

Dr. Nathan Suter, owner of a House, Missouri, dental practice and a consulting firm, Access Teledentistry, predicts teledentistry will become more mainstream. This is due to its multiple uses, such as when a dentist is traveling or if there is a schedule conflict.

For your employees, this is a valuable option in maintaining their oral health. As a primer on teledentistry, here are insights on its use and impact and how Delta Dental is supporting this advance in care.

What is teledentistry?

Teledentistry is when a dentist conducts a virtual consultation via phone, text or video to diagnose issues, offer care advice and determine if an in-person visit is necessary.

Teledentistry appointments can be synchronous, such as a video call where the dentist and patient are interacting with each other, or asynchronous, such as when the patient sends a description of his or her situation and a photo and waits for a reply.

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equipment and software needed may vary based on dentists’ preferences and capabilities. Teledentistry may require nothing more than a phone or may require a smart device, computer or specialized app. Businesses now incorporate videoconferencing software for team meetings, and this can be used in dental consultations.

If dental offices have reopened, why is teledentistry relevant?

Dentist offices may be open, but that doesn’t mean that your employees won’t benefit from teledentistry solutions. Just as working from home has shown the value of video meetings and connecting with co-workers without being in person, employees may find teledentistry a useful option when seeking dental care.

In a public opinion survey, 70% of respondents indicated they would take a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available, and 12% are waiting for a vaccine to go back to the dentist, according to Sports and Leisure Research Group’s “Back to Normal Barometer” in July.

Whether your employees are eager or hesitant to return the dentist, teledentistry is the perfect tool for staying in touch, getting care and getting advice without going into the dentist’s office. The ADA has issued guidelines for teledentistry, specifying patient rights regarding this delivery of care.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry appointments at the same benefit levels as diagnostic services to ensure that employees have coverage for their dental needs while staying safe from COVID-19. We’re encouraging dentists to use teledentistry for emergency diagnoses and non-emergency consultations.

What’s more, Delta Dental is looking into partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for both dentists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the benefits industry?

Even as vaccines are distributed and control of the COVID-19 virus can be managed, your employees may expect teledentistry to be included as a standard part of any insurance plan (for example, Kaiser Permanente is launching plans with a heavy focus on telehealth). Employees may shy away from plans and dentists that can’t accommodate teledentistry. Those who live in remote areas may gain better access to professional care through teledentistry.

Dentists may incorporate teledentistry as a viable option in their scheduling so your employees can receive care when and how they need it.

Is teledentistry covered by Delta Dental plans?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry services as problem-focused exams. That means they fall into the category of diagnostic care, and are subject to the same rules and limitations (for example, diagnostic and preventive services are usually covered at no cost to the patient, but only a certain number of such appointments are covered each year).

With dental offices adapting to safety needs, you can encourage your employees to maintain their oral health. Teledentistry provides a vital option for them to manage their care through regular checkups and access to expert consultation.

Dental implants are coming to DeltaCare USA

A new kind of DeltaCare® USA plan is available to you in 2021. Effective January 1, 2021, DeltaCare USA i‑series plans will be available with comprehensive coverage for dental implants. Once i‑series plan rollouts are complete (there will be nine in total), they will be available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

These plans are designed to address the growing demand for more affordable access to dental implants. Coverage for dental implants is a valuable benefit that employees ask for, so offering an i‑series plan makes dental insurance a more compelling choice for more employees. You’ll be able to offer a plan that fits more budgets than ever before but still offers cost savings, more choices in treatment options and coverage for procedures like teeth whitening.

These new plans will expand the coverage available to employees looking for more affordable dental insurance. For more information, please contact your account manager.

Planning a wellness calendar for 2021

As employees finalize their open enrollment choices and begin looking towards 2021, you may be asking yourself what you can do to help them stay informed and healthy in the year to come. Fortunately, Delta Dental offers an assortment of themed wellness materials to help you offer employees relevant wellness content all year round.

For a quick look at the topics covered in 2021, check out this PDF.

Promoting wellness means approaching health from a holistic perspective. From holidays to awareness months, there are plenty of opportunities to remind employees to take care of both their oral health and their total well-being. Campaigns include everything from Glaucoma Awareness Month in January to holiday health in December, and each campaign is supported by a wealth of multimedia assets.

Whether you want to communicate with employees who are in the office or are working from home, whether your employees want to watch a video about wellness or read a flyer, there are materials available to suit your needs. Visit the wellness calendar page and you’ll find:

  • Emails
  • Flyers
  • Posters
  • Booklets
  • Infographics
  • Videos

Our new 2021 calendar is available now, and full of great resources and materials to share with employees. From January through December, let’s make 2021 a great year for oral health and total body wellness!

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