Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Category: Industry and policy (Page 1 of 3)

Find in-depth analysis and the latest news on the dental benefits industry.

How the stress of the pandemic could be affecting your employees’ dental health

For many, 2020 ushered in feelings of isolation and fear, as well as new concerns about financial stability, safety, family and how to juggle all of it from home. For some dentists, the stress of the situation has become apparent in their patients’ oral health. Chances are, it could be affecting your employees, as well.

As of March, over 70% of dentists surveyed by the American Dental Association (ADA) Healthy Policy Institute reported an increase in patients experiencing teeth grinding and clenching since before the pandemic. That number is up nearly 10% from fall of 2020. In fact, more than 80% of Americans have reported emotions associated with prolonged stress, according to a January study by the American Psychological Association (APA).

“Generally, manifestations of stress go away when the stressing event goes away. That’s where the pandemic comes in,” said Dr. Daniel Croley, DMD, chief dental officer for Delta Dental. “One of the ways that some people manifest stress is by clenching and grinding their teeth.”

But dental conditions related to stress go beyond just teeth grinding.

Stress-related conditions

Multiple studies have shown that emotions can play a significant role in periodontal (gum) disease. Thanks to an increase in inflammation from stress-induced conditions, the gums can become a hotbed for bacteria, leading to gingivitis. According to the ADA, dentists reported recent upticks in all of the following conditions:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Chipped teeth
  • Cracked teeth
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) symptoms
  • Cavities
  • Gum disease
  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth sores

Delta Dental claim data also suggests a rise in stress-related conditions. Bite guards, commonly associated with treatment for bruxism and TMJ, were prescribed 14.3% more by Delta Dental dentists in the second half of 2020 than during that same period in 2019.

Sleep and ergonomics

During the mad rush to convert homes to offices in the early days of the pandemic, couches and stools took the place of lumbar-supported work chairs. Ergonomic workspaces became less of a priority than merely having a functioning workspace and the resulting poor posture may also be to blame for some TMJ issues. Whether your staff is at home or back in the office, it may be time to brush up on proper ergonomics for their workstation.

Likewise, stress and disrupted routines likely hurt the chances at restorative sleep, increasing nighttime teeth grinding. Insomnia and restlessness can result in bruxism and TMJ. Restful off-hours are critical for productive workdays, so consider sharing resources for mindfulness and healthy nighttime routines with your team.

Mask mouth

On top of these stress-induced issues is yet another pandemic problem: mask mouth. The facemask has been a staple of pandemic life and has greatly contributed to the slowing of the virus but can come with unfortunate byproducts: bad breath, dry mouth and even gingivitis and tooth decay.

Dental professionals attribute mask mouth to dehydration and mouth breathing when wearing a face covering. Though the ADA found no substantial rise in these specific indicators, the symptoms are easy to prevent by brushing thoroughly and drinking enough water. If your staff wears masks throughout their workday, it may be helpful to lay out guidelines for when they can remove them to stay hydrated.

Other reasons for the spike

It is important to note that not all of these conditions are caused solely by anxiety and tension. For instance, a broken tooth could come as the result of anxiety-induced teeth-grinding, but it could also be caused by an accident or prolonged dental problems. Unfortunately, most claim data does not include the cause behind the diagnosis. Without that, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that stress is the sole reason for a spike in numbers.

“It’s logical to conclude that current stress is leading to those broken and chipped teeth,” Dr. Croley said. “We will monitor and see. As we see broader distribution of the COVID vaccine and our daily lives feel more typical of what we experienced pre-pandemic, we will see our stress subside and as a result the need for bite guards to treat grinding and clenching subside — but our bodies can take some time to re-acclimate. Going back to the typical is still a change from what has been our weird ‘normal’ over the past year and any change can generate stress.”

Educate your employees about how mental health can affect their oral health when signs of stress are detected. Sharing resources on recognizing and managing stress is a great way of letting your staff know that you’re empathetic to their situation and care about their health.

How COVID-19 is changing benefits in 2021

The global pandemic has had a profound impact on the way corporations attract, develop and maintain their human capital, and this includes changes to benefits packages. A June 2020 survey by Mercer found that some of the most common benefits changes that companies were considering in response to the pandemic included:

  • Expanding virtual health and telemedicine programs
  • Enhancing mental health support (including employee assistance programs)
  • Adding or expanding voluntary benefits

Have those predictions panned out? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) conducted a survey of U.S. employers to determine how the way businesses think about offering benefits has changed because of COVID-19. This study has found a move towards telemedicine, mental health benefits, flexibility around leave and greater consideration given to cost-saving measures. 

Fewer in-office visits means more telemedicine coverage

From visiting the dentist to an unexpected trip to the emergency room, in-office visits of all kinds are down from 2019 rates. That doesn’t mean that people are necessarily receiving less care, though. According to the IFEBP survey, nearly nine out of 10 employers reported seeing an increase in the number of telehealth claims filed in 2020. Dental offices are safe to visit, but for employees who are trying to socially distance (or simply have difficulty fitting a trip to the dentist into their schedule), Delta Dental offers multiple virtual dentistry solutions.

Stress and isolation lead to a greater emphasis on mental health benefits

Mental health claims saw a sharp rise in 2020. As employees cope with the stress and isolation that living with the realities of COVID-19 can cause, adding or enhancing access to mental health care is a cost-saving move. The effects of stress, depression and anxiety may not be as visible as with other issues, but they are no less real. They can lead to missed work and physical health issues, and so they’re equally important to cover with mental health benefits or employee assistance programs that offer support to employees.

More flexibility in leave is required as life throws curveballs at everyone

It’s important to be compassionate and flexible when it comes to your employees’ physical and emotional needs. Parents and other caregivers have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and may need additional support as they try to juggle their work and home lives. Emergency leave for child or elder care, flexible use of paid and unpaid leave and offering carryover options for workers who can’t use their current vacation days are becoming more common.

Voluntary plans are becoming more popular to help keep costs low

Finally, consider that it may be in your organization’s best interests to change the kind of benefits offered. Voluntary plans are a great way to ensure that those who want dental coverage can keep it, even if cost-saving measures become necessary. The Smile On program is also available to provide dental coverage to those who are transitioning out of the workforce.

Communication is key

No matter how your benefits may change in response to the pandemic, being transparent and honest with your employees is essential. By alerting employees to benefits changes, you can ensure that they won’t be caught by an unpleasant surprise. Additionally, letting your employees know when new benefits are available and how to make the most of them can help keep them happier and healthier.

Remote work and employers: what are the pros and cons?

In 2020, we all learned just how fast the world could adapt to new measures. In the workforce, this has meant relying on coworkers and employees to bring their work home without missing a beat. With a year passed since COVID-19 changed the world, it’s time to reflect on the first year as full-time remote employers, what has been learned from it, and how to continue to adapt moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of remote working:

Pros

Flexibility

Working from home is far from a new concept. In fact, it’s often touted as a job perk by hiring managers. For employees, it often comes down to flexibility. Working remotely can be an opportunity schedule quick errands, focus in a less distracting environment or even to enjoy more time with the pets while still accomplishing the tasks at hand. The freedoms of remote work can be a major morale-booster. A study by PwC recently found that 55% of would like still to keep working from home at least three days a week once it’s safe to return to the office.

Lack of commute

Who wouldn’t choose walking to their living room over an hour commute on an over-stuffed train? Eliminating this often stressful part of the day saves time, money and headaches. It also takes more cars off the road, meaning less air pollution. In November, NASA announced that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had been reduced by nearly 20% since February of 2020.

Larger pool of candidates

Eliminating a tough commute can also mean a more competitive job market. When people can work from anywhere, it widens the pool of potential candidates. For permanently remote jobs where location isn’t a requirement, employers can reap the benefits with a larger number of viable applicants.

Saved money

Less people in an office means a smaller office space, fewer everyday office expenses like supplies and cleanup, and less utilities at work. These kinds of savings aren’t just beneficial during uncertain times — they can be lucrative to new businesses trying to grow.

Cons

Blurred work/life balance

One of the more complicated issues to arise from remote working has been the stress of balancing a regular workday with our rapidly changing world. When the physical barrier of an office is removed, the lines between professional and personal lives can get a bit fuzzy. While flexible work hours may be a pro, they can become a slippery slope of overtime and burnout if left unchecked. In fact a recent Gallup poll showed that 29% of people who always work from home feel burnt out “very often” or “always.”

Encourage your staff to set up a corner of their home just for work if they can and to stay online for office hours only. Check in regularly to make sure that they feel heard and supported in their work endeavors.

Internet complications

We’ve all heard the horror stories: Someone forgot to mute themselves in a meeting or couldn’t figure out how to turn a Zoom filter off. In 2020, the learning curve got a bit steeper as our toolboxes grew along with our reliance on technology.

A little bit of training and empathy can go a long way in these cases. As expectations change, offer learning guides, webinars and other resources to help employees with the learning process. Additionally, understand that complications can occasionally arise when employees are at the mercy of Wi-Fi, laptops, and other far-from-perfect technologies.

Less organic opportunities for connection

With no watercooler to gather around, those little day-to-day opportunities for staff to connect can be tougher to find. Don’t let it wedge a gap between the team.

Schedule a little time for virtual team-building opportunities, be it a lunch meet-up or a Friday game hour. Take this time to focus on company values and consider how you can foster trust and communication.

As the world continues to change, take some time to reflect on how much you and your team have already adapted and give yourself credit where it’s due. Creating a culture of openness and empathy will help address issues as they arise and keep you connected to your team.

Select ancillary benefits that fit your employees’ needs

Dentist documenting findings during an exam with patient.

To complement your group medical plan, you should select ancillary benefits that add financial value and wellness incentives for your employees.

Nearly 60% of responding hiring managers, human resources professionals and workers identified better benefits as a key strategy to strengthen connections with employees and reduce turnover, according to a 2018 Career Builder survey. Using ancillary benefits to enhance total compensation for employees is a way to do this.

Millennials cite better benefits as a reason to change employers, along with seeking a new role, or career path dissatisfaction.

Why should your company offer ancillary benefits?

An ancillary benefit covers a specific need not addressed by your company’s group medical insurance plan. Dental, vision, life, disability and even pet insurance are complementary products that you can integrate into your benefit package.

This can strengthen your company’s relationship with employees. Ancillary benefits deliver value through access to health care plans and financial solutions that enhance total wellness, lower out-of-pocket expenses and give peace of mind.

With the option to select whatever benefit fits their individual or family needs, employees can customize an overall package that gives them peace of mind and job satisfaction.

Through surveys, you can determine what ancillary benefits employees are seeking, and then shape your benefit package accordingly.

What value do ancillary benefits add to your company?

Offering ancillary benefits shows that your company’s priorities match employees’ priorities. It is an investment that brings returns for your company through better employee health and financial stability, cost effectiveness and increased worker retention.

Companies saved $5.8 billion over four years by offering stand-alone vision plans, according to a study by the HCMS Group. The plan savings came from reduced health care costs, avoided productivity losses and lower turnover rates. These generally include contact lenses or glasses, and allowances for LASIK or PRK refractive surgery, and a comprehensive eye exam. An annual eye exam can reveal symptoms of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood sugar or high cholesterol.

Although 75% of millennials don’t carry life insurance, this benefit becomes more important to employees in later stages of their careers. The average worker has a 30% chance of becoming disabled, so a short-term or long-term insurance plan provides backup. Millennials make up 35% of all pet owners, and a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management revealed that 11% of U.S. employers offered pet insurance, up from 6% in 2014, with one in three Fortune 500 companies offering this ancillary benefit.

How a dental plan delivers value

According to an American Dental Association survey, 30% of young adults have tooth decay. As an ancillary benefit, a dental plan includes diagnostic and preventive services that go beyond maintaining employees’ oral health.

Dentists not only evaluate periodontal disease but also diagnose symptoms of major health issues, such as diabetes, during routine exams. Early detection enables employees to seek treatment that may avoid more expensive interventions. It can help your company control long-term health care costs and provide financial stability for employees.

Delta Dental offers dental plans that easily complement, and integrate with, your existing group health plans. Whether your company contributes to premiums or not, giving access to a dental plan as an ancillary benefit ensures a focus on total wellness and value for employees.

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.

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.

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