When your employees want to improve their health, chances are they’ll start by improving their diet, beginning an exercise program or quitting bad habits like smoking.

These are all fantastic ways to get healthier, but your employees may not realize that their gums are also crucial to their overall well-being. This February for Gum Disease Awareness Month, remind employees of the often-overlooked connection between gum health and overall health.

The connection between gum disease and overall health

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a common bacterial infection that causes a chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue. It’s the major cause of adult tooth loss, and it affects nearly half of people over 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The effects of gum disease extend well beyond the mouth. Gum disease has been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Inflammation from bacteria in the gums may eventually lead to narrowing of arteries and heart trouble.
  • Dementia. Chronic gum inflammation can be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
  • Glaucoma. Tooth loss and gum disease may increase the risk of this disease of the optic nerve.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. The bacterium that causes periodontal disease may increase the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, lead to an earlier onset of the disease and cause symptoms to progress more quickly.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing gum disease. In turn, having gum disease can make your blood glucose harder to control.
  • Premature birth and low birth weight. Pregnant women are at increased risk of gum disease due to hormonal changes and increased blood flow. Gum disease is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth, as well as low birth weight and other pregnancy complications.

Early treatment of gum disease can effectively lower health costs in the long term. The devastating effects of the condition in its developed stages are largely preventable when employees stay informed and take action.

Ways to keep your employees informed

Your employees may be unaware of the connection between gum disease and overall health. What’s more, many of them may not realize they have gum disease. The condition isn’t usually painful, and many people don’t know they have gum disease until it progresses to more serious conditions, such as tooth loss.

Delta Dental has a wealth of resources you can use to educate your employees during Gum Disease Awareness Month and beyond. You can:

How your Delta Dental coverage can support employees’ gum health

Routine dental checkups and cleanings, covered by all Delta Dental plan as diagnostic and preventive services, can help prevent and monitor gum disease.

Treatments for gum disease, such as scaling and root planing, are typically covered under most dental plans under periodontic services.

When non-surgical treatment is inadequate, Delta Dental’s standard plans offer several surgical treatments to slow down or prevent the progression of the disease. Common procedures include:

  • Gingivectomy. Diseased gum tissue is removed and reshaped to get rid of pockets between the teeth and gums.
  • Gingival flap surgery. Gum tissue is separated from surrounding teeth and deflected back to allow a dental surgeon access to the jawbone and the root of the tooth for deep scaling and root planning.
  • Osseous Surgery. Also called pocket reduction surgery, this procedure eliminates the bacteria populating the pockets by cutting the gums to remove the bacteria and repair the damaged bone.
  • Bone grafting. This procedure increases the amount of bone in a part of the jaw where bone has been lost or where additional support is needed. Bone may be taken from elsewhere in the body and surgically fused to existing bone in the jaw.

Employees with chronic conditions may be at a higher risk for gum disease. SmileWay® Wellness Benefits offers additional coverage for gum treatment for those diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis or stroke.

Looking to improve your support for employees with or at risk of gum disease? Talk to your Account Manager about how your dental plan can improve employee health and reduce long-term costs.