Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Category: Employee support (Page 1 of 10)

Get tips and news to support your employees.

Is work hurting your employees’ teeth?

When you think of risk factors for poor dental health, what comes to mind? Maybe infrequent brushing, eating too much candy or avoiding the dentist come to mind.

There’s another factor you may not have thought of: work. Various aspects of work life, from simple stress to physical labor, can contribute to poor oral health. Learn about risk factors associated with the workplace and how your employees can protect their oral health at work.

Dehydration

Did you know that dehydration can lead to bad breath, tooth decay and even gum disease? This is because dry mouth, a symptom of dehydration, allows harmful bacteria and acids to stay on our teeth.

Up to 80% of American workers are likely to work while at least slightly dehydrated. That’s not a good situation for your employees’ oral health. Employees are particularly at risk if they work outside or do strenuous labor, but even desk workers should take care to consume enough water and electrolytes. Water also rinses away harmful sugars, starches and acids, helps combat dry mouth and may provide a dose of protective fluoride.

Hydration is so important that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers provide free potable water to all employees either through drinking fountains, tap water, water coolers or water bottles!

What you can do:  Depending on your work environment, you may require or strongly encourage that employees take short water breaks at regular intervals. You could also provide reusable water bottles or post reminders about why hydration is important.

Snacking

In some workplaces, it’s policy to provide free snacks and drinks in the breakroom. In others, a few workers simply leave out bowls of for everyone to snack from. Regardless of where they come from, sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks are a staple of a lot of office workers’ diets.

But snacks are tough on your employees’ teeth. Some of the main offenders include sticky candies and chips.

What you can do: If your office provides snacks, consider including healthy, teeth-friendly alternatives if you can. You could also share articles about nutrition and oral health to help employees make healthier, informed choices.

Stress and anxiety

Projects, quotas and delivery deadlines means that work can definitely be a source of some major stress in your employees’ lives. Unsurprisingly, job stress and anxiety can lead to indulging in some unhealthy habits, such as teeth grinding, jaw clenching, nail biting, chewing on pens and pencils or binge snacking, all of which can lead to tooth damage, gum disease and canker sores.

Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can even lead to longer term issues, like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

What you can do: On a large scale, you can encourage mental well-being through initiatives like subsidizing gym memberships or offering employee assistance programs. Some employee stress is a result of their bosses. You can tackle this by providing leadership training or personal development and taking conflicts between managers and employees seriously.

Smoking and vaping

Whether your practice offers additional breaks to smokers or your employees find a quick smoke the best way to release stress, smoking is never a good idea. Not only is smoking one of the top risk factors for oral cancer, it can also lead to bad breath, gum disease and cavities. And while it doesn’t involve tobacco, the vapor from e‑cigarettes contains nicotine — which can lead to gum disease and tooth loss — along with other chemicals that can harm your teeth.

What you can do: The American Lung Association of Ohio, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation developed a model for a tobacco-free workplace policy that you can begin to implement. Both the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer free resources to help smokers quit.

Dental injuries

Whether from a fall, a misuse of equipment or a simple accident, dental injuries can pose a threat to everyone. Work-related dental injuries include chipped or cracked teeth, tooth loss and jaw trauma leading to temporomandibular disorders (TMJ).

In particular, issues with waiting to treat dental injuries can result in worse outcomes. If someone cracks a tooth, the American Dental Association recommends that they see a dentist as soon as possible. Immediate treatment for the injury should be rinsing the mouth with warm water to clean the area. They can also put cold compresses on their face to reduce any swelling.

What you can do: Create a policy that encourages employees to seek immediate medical attention for any potential injury, even if they feel it isn’t a big deal. Take into consideration what might discourage seeking treatment (finances, transportation, childcare or something else) and develop a plan to address each sticking point.


While work creates certain hazards for employees’ dental health, awareness can make a big difference. Sharing resources like the Delta Dental Wellness library can empower your employees to make more informed choices. Evaluate your dental benefits to and tailor them to address your employees’ risk factors.

Healthy mouth, healthy mind

Could flossing every day help prevent depression? Does having anxiety increase the risk for developing gum disease?

The relationship between mental health and oral health is a cyclical one. More and more research is revealing that keeping a healthy mouth is an important part of keeping a healthy mind, and vice versa. People with mental health issues are less likely to take proper care of their oral health, and conversely, good oral health can enhance mental and overall well-being.

For Mental Health Awareness Month this May, take some time to remind your employees of the often-overlooked relationship between dental hygiene and mental health. You can use Delta Dental resources to help them understand that caring for their oral health is a central part of caring for their mental health.

The relationship between the mouth and the mind

Oral health and mental health are more closely linked than many people realize. Mental health issues can cause people to brush and floss at irregular intervals, skip dentist visits, maintain unhealthy diets and self-medicate with smoking or drug use, resulting in gum disease and tooth decay.

Some of the mental illnesses that can negatively impact oral health include:

  • Anxiety. Anxiety and dental phobia can stop people from seeing their dentist regularly, which can harm their oral health. In addition, medications prescribed for anxiety can cause dry mouth. Without saliva to rinse away food debris, plaque and bacteria, cavities can form more easily.
  • Depression. Depression is associated with higher abuse of alcohol, coffee and tobacco, all of which can cause tooth erosion and decay. Depression can also lead to self-neglect, which results in poor oral hygiene.
  • Eating disorders. Acids from vomiting make patients with eating disorders more susceptible to tooth decay.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. The condition often causes over-brushing that may damage gums and cause dental abrasion, mucosal lacerations or gingival lacerations.
  • Schizophrenia and psychosis. These serious mental health conditions can cause people to forego dental care, eat poorly and neglect oral hygiene. Side effects of antipsychotic and mood stabilizer drugs may include a higher susceptibility to oral bacterial infections.

Certain mental health conditions can exacerbate poor oral health, and the converse is often also true: Poor oral health can make mental health issues worse. Oral health problems can lead to more frequent pain experience, social isolation and low self-esteem, reducing quality of life and in turn diminishing mental well-being.

A recent study even showed a strong association between chronic gingivitis and subsequent depression. More research is needed to fully understand the connection, but it highlights that maintaining oral health is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy and happy life.

Helping your employees maintain their mental health and oral health

No matter what issues your employees are facing, it’s important to remind them to keep up with routine oral health care and dental visits. Encourage employees to maintain healthy habits like cutting back on sugar, reducing stress, eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking. Staying hydrated, exercising and maintaining a good social support system are also crucial to maintaining mental health through difficult times.

The following resources can help you remind employees to care for their oral health while maintaining their mental well-being. With Delta Dental resources, you can:

Mental health affects the health of the entire body, including oral health. It’s an important link that unfortunately, many people don’t understand. For Mental Health Awareness Month, remind your employees that there is no mental health without oral health.

5 ways to educate employees about oral cancer

Over 53,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2022, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Under 60% of those who are diagnosed with this disease can be expected to survive for five years after their diagnosis, but those rates can be significantly higher when the disease is detected and treated early. Dentists are often the first to spot oral cancers, so access to regular dental care can be lifesaving.

Here are five ways you can help protect your employees from oral cancer and support employees who receive a positive diagnosis.

1. Encourage your employees to get regular dental exams

As part of regular adult dental exams, dentists check for indications of oral cancer. This typically involves performing a physical examination and may also include asking patients about risk factors and tell-tale symptoms of the disease.

In addition to making it more likely that oral cancer will be caught in its earliest stages when its more treatable, regular visits to the dentist can help your employees’ heart health and even help diagnose diabetes.

All Delta Dental plans cover diagnostic and preventive services at low or no out-of-pocket cost to members.

2. Understand the risk factors for oral cancer

Age is frequently named as the primary risk factor for oral cancer, but it isn’t the only one. Over 20% of oral cancer cases occur in patients younger than 55. Smoking or using other tobacco products is a major risk factor for the development of oral cancer, as is alcohol abuse. Additionally, certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to oral cancer.

Fortunately, dentists are able to assist with all of these issues. For example, dentists are trained to identify the damage that smoking causes to the mouth and assist employees with quitting. As trained health professionals, dentists can also administer HPV vaccines to help protect their younger patients from developing oral cancer in the future.

To spread awareness, you can share these materials with your employees:

3. Be ready for employees’ questions

An employee who has just received a positive cancer diagnosis is likely to be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Once the dust settles, employees will likely have questions about the logistical side of paying for treatment, job security and resources available to them as they battle cancer. You should be prepared to answer employees’ questions about the following topics:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverage, including cancer-specific programs
  • Employee assistance and cancer navigation programs
  • Leaves of absence
  • Workplace accommodations, including flexible scheduling
  • Wellness programs

4. Educate employees on the importance of dental care

Working with a dentist to maintain dental health is essential for employees who are battling cancer. Whether an employee has not yet begun treatment, is actively undergoing treatment or has already completed it, dentists are valuable allies.

Dentists can be sure to identify treat minor oral health issues such as fillings before chemo- or radiation therapy begin. They can also help employees deal with the side effects of treatment, such as dry mouth, reduced white blood cell count, mouth sores, pain and more.

5. Be supportive, attentive and encouraging

When an employee opens up about a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to respond with empathy. There are organizations that offer training on how to best manage and assist employees undergoing cancer and other challenges. In the absence of specialized training, you can be effective communicating with employees simply by being supportive and encouraging.

Examples of supportive statements include:

  • “I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, but we’re here to help however we can.”
  • “If you want to talk about this, I’m here. If you need space, that’s OK, too.”
  • “Let me know what I can do to help you.”

Encouraging statements might sound like:

  • “You’re a valuable member of this team, and we’ll work together to keep you on it.”
  • “I want to hear how you’re doing. Let’s check in regularly.”

One thing you don’t want to do is make your employee’s situation about anything other than the employee. You might want to avoid:

  • Offering advice if the employee hasn’t asked for it.
  • Trying to cheer up the employee or brushing off their concerns. This can seem to the employee like their feelings aren’t being validated.
  • Sharing stories about yourself or others. Unless the employee asks to hear such stories, let them focus on their own experiences instead and just listen — even if listening means being OK with silence.

The most important thing you can do for employees who are confronting oral cancer is to recognize that you and your company’s place is to be an ally. You can’t fight cancer for your employees, but you can ensure that they have the support and the resources they need to give it their all.

Get ready to brush even smarter

Going to the dentist for regular checkups is important for maintaining oral health, but what can people do at home to keep a bright and healthy smile? BrushSmart is Delta Dental’s free oral wellness program designed to help members power up their at-home oral care. Members who sign up get exclusive discounts and offers from trusted brands that specialize in dental products. This spring, BrushSmart is adding more partners and more discounts.

  • Oral‑B
  • Philips Sonicare
  • quip

Joining BrushSmart is great for your employees with Delta Dental plans. The engagement and rewards the program offers can help drive better oral health behavior and the focus on at-home care may help employees achieve better health outcomes. Let your employees know they can sign up online and take control of their oral health.

How stress affects your employees’ oral health

Every day, your employees face challenges that can be stressful and overwhelming, but the pandemic, inflation and war have all helped to push U.S. stress levels to record levels. As stress increases, so do oral health problems. For National Stress Awareness Month this April, learn why your employees may be at risk and what you can do to help.

Pandemic stress and oral health

Unfortunately, due to stress from COVID-19, dentists have seen a sharp rise in stress-related oral health conditions, according to a report from the American Dental Association (ADA). Dentists reported:

  • A 71% increase in the prevalence of teeth grinding and clenching
  • A 63% increase for chipped teeth
  • A 63% increase for cracked teeth

Even as some of the most challenging, isolating and stressful aspects of the pandemic seem to be coming to an end, money problems, inflation and war have pushed stress in the U.S. to alarming levels, according to the American Psychological Association.

Stress-related oral health conditions

It’s crucial to remind your employees to look after their oral health during times of high stress because they may be unaware that they’re developing stress-related oral health conditions.

Teeth grinding

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, occurs when teeth are clenched and ground together, and it’s frequently caused by stress and anxiety. What’s more: teeth grinding often happens at night during sleep, so your employees may be entirely unaware they have the condition.

It’s important for employees to know the signs and to seek treatment if they suspect they may be grinding their teeth. Signs include:

  • Tips of the teeth appear flat
  • Tooth sensitivity caused by worn enamel
  • Indentations in the tongue

Dentists can examine your employees’ teeth to determine whether they may be grinding their teeth at night and, if so, how best to treat it.

Gum disease

Stress can deplete the immune system, the body’s natural defense mechanism against disease and infection. And when the immune system is weakened by stress, harmful bacteria in the mouth seize the opportunity to wreak havoc on the gums. Furthermore, research shows that the systemic diseases associated with gum disease such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease may share stress as a common risk factor.

When your employees are stressed, they should take extra care of their gums by flossing and maintaining a solid dental hygiene routine. If their gums bleed when they floss or brush, they should visit the dentist right away.

Tooth decay

Stress and tooth decay often go hand in hand. People tend to make poor choices regarding their health during times of stress, eating comforting but unhealthy foods full of starch and sugar. They pay less attention to their normal hygiene routines, forgoing regular brushing and flossing if they feel stressed or depressed. Your employees who take medications for chronic stress may be at an even greater risk due to dry mouth, which is often a side effect of such medications. Altogether, these issues can shape the perfect storm leading to more cavities during times of stress.

How to help your employees

The best way to reduce stress is to remove its source. Of course, in many cases, that’s simply not possible. Counseling, exercise, relaxation, physical therapy or meditation may all help your employees manage stress during difficult times. If your company makes these resources available, use National Stress Awareness Month to remind your employees to use them.

But during times of stress, it’s equally important to remind your employees to take care of their oral health, to watch for stress-related oral health problems and to keep up with regular dentist visits.

The following resources from Delta Dental can help you raise awareness about stress-related oral conditions and keep your employees informed. With Delta Dental, you can:

Managing stress in the post-pandemic era

Many of your employees may be unaware of the crucial relationship between stress and oral health. During Stress Awareness Month, you can serve the crucial role of reminding employees to manage their stress, to watch for the signs of stress-related oral health conditions and to visit their dentist to help treat any stress-related oral health problems.

You can support teens during National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week

The teenage years are often a time for young people to explore and learn more about themselves and the world as they approach adulthood. This may involve experimenting and testing their boundaries. The desire to try new things is a normal part of teen development, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks involved.

This March, you have the perfect opportunity to share information about the effects of substance abuse on teen’s oral health with your employees. National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW), observed from March 21 to March 27, is an annual recognition of the science of drug use and addiction among teens.

Why do teens use substances?

By the time they reach 12th grade, almost 50% of teenagers have used illicit drugs and 60% have tried alcohol. The reasons for substance use vary and include:

  • The desire to fit in and be social
  • Experimenting with experiences and relieving boredom
  • Coping with stress, trauma or abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Showing independence

How do drugs and alcohol affect oral health?

In severe cases, drug and alcohol abuse can result in overdoses or brain damage. But illicit substances can have less noticeable long-term effects.

  • Dry mouth. Drugs like meth and heroin often reduce the saliva flow in the mouth and result in dry mouth.
  • Tooth decay. Drinks with alcohol in them can be very acidic, which can cause enamel erosion.
  • Acid reflux. Alcohol can cause acid reflux by relaxing muscles in the stomach which usually prevents stomach acid from traveling up the esophagus.
  • Teeth grinding. Also called bruxism, teeth grinding and clenching can be a result of muscle spasms that occur when stimulant drugs like ecstasy or cocaine are taken.
  • Ulcers and sores. While acidity in alcoholic beverages can cause ulcers in the mouth, street drugs made in home labs can be contaminated with chemicals and bacteria that causes sores as well.
  • Oral cancer. The damage that drugs and alcohol do in the mouth can result in a higher risk of oral cancer, one of the deadliest diseases of the mouth.

Substance abuse can cause oral health issues in more round-about ways, too. Long-term usage can result in problems taking care of basic needs, like eating a varied diet or maintain an oral health routine. Over time, users can develop nutritional deficiencies that can endanger oral health. They can also develop oral health conditions like gum disease, which may increase their risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Materials you can share

As a benefits administrator, you can help address teen substance use by educating parents and any teenagers in your employ about the risks and statistics that come with illicit drug and alcohol usage. Delta Dental has materials that you can use, including:

  • Wellness articles about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the mouth
  • An email you can send to employees that features articles and videos about the connection between substance use and oral health
  • A poster you can print that shows risk factors for oral cancer

Looking for more materials? The National Institute of Health has built a variety of additional resources that you can share easily:

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