Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Category: Wellness (Page 1 of 5)

Understand the wellness connection. Stay on top of the latest research in the dental health world.

Are foster children at higher risk of oral disease?

More than 400,000 children in the United States are in foster care. While almost all of them get state-mandated dental insurance through Medicaid, children in foster care reported more oral health problems than children who aren’t in foster care, according to a recent study.

And it’s not just dental care. Foster children’s overall health outcomes are worse than the outcomes of children from more economically secure backgrounds. What’s causing this rift?

Oral health problems may begin before foster care placement

Children who enter the foster care system are there for a variety of reasons, but a leading cause is neglect. In 2019, about 656,000 American children were the victims of reported neglect or abuse.

When children are neglected, they may not be taught about the importance oral hygiene or given the tools they need to maintain their oral health, like toothbrushes and floss. Instead, these children often develop chronic conditions, such as gum disease, and rarely see a dentist. If those children are taken in to foster care, their history of chronic oral health problems may contribute to more frequent dental issues.

Even worse, children in the foster system suffer from high rates of emotional abuse, with children of Native American, Black and Hispanic descent particularly vulnerable to reoccurring maltreatment. That means that foster children may not receive care for chronic oral health problems that can lead to more severe oral care outcomes.

Struggles in getting access to care

The current nature of the foster care system means that the average foster kid moves home three times during their time in care, with some children moving more than 15 times a year.

The instability of life in the system makes it difficult for healthcare professionals to care for these kids, since they could move suddenly. Coordinating care can contribute to delays, since state agencies, birth parents and foster parents all have different responsibilities and levels of control.

Finding a dentist who accepts Medicaid can be difficult and can lead to delays in care that could result in worse diagnoses. Options like teledentistry may help for families with consistent access to the internet, but not all dentists provide telemedicine services.

How you can help

While kids fostered by your employees are covered by Medicaid, there are still ways you can help. You can regularly remind your employees of the importance of oral health care for all children. Consider putting together a small package of helpful materials for any employee who decides to foster. Delta Dental has a variety of wellness materials that may help:

You can also modify your current benefits packages to support children’s health with effective preventive tools like sealants or important orthodontic devices like braces.


Glaucoma and the oral health connection

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. While you might be aware that the disease is a leading cause of permanent blindness, it might surprise you to know that it may also be linked to oral health.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when a buildup of fluid causes pressure in the eyes to increase to abnormal levels, damaging the optic nerve. The resulting nerve damage causes partial or total blindness in the affected eye. After it occurs, this vision loss can’t be reversed, but early treatment to reduce eye pressure may reduce or halt the damage.

More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and the number of people who have the disease is expected to more than double by 2050, according to the National Eye Institute. While anyone, including children, can develop glaucoma, the condition is most common in:

  • People over age 60
  • African Americans over age 40
  • People who have a family history of the disease

OK, but how is glaucoma connected to oral health?

Various studies suggest a connection between poor oral health and glaucoma. A 26-year study of more than 40,000 men over the age of 40 found a correlation between tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma.

The study found that the risk for glaucoma was 43% greater in men who had lost at least one tooth than those who didn’t lose any teeth. When periodontal disease was also factored in, the glaucoma risk for men with tooth loss increased to 86% higher than men with no tooth loss.

While the specific cause isn’t certain, researchers speculate that bacteria at the site of the tooth loss can cause inflammation, which triggers reactions in the body that can affect the eyes.

What can I do for my employees with glaucoma?

If you have employees with glaucoma, here are few steps you can take to help them:

  • Encourage your employees to schedule dental cleanings. Preventive care not only helps improve the health of teeth and gums, it can also help improve employees’ overall health and help prevent conditions that lead to inflammation, a condition that can contribute to glaucoma.
  • Urge employees with gum disease to follow their dentist’s recommended periodontal treatment. Along with tooth loss, periodontitis has been linked to other health problems, including inflammation. If you don’t already, consider offering periodontal benefits, including our SmileWay® Wellness Benefits.
  • Take advantage of Delta Dental’s materials. You can take advantage of a variety of materials to support your employees during Glaucoma Awareness Month, including emails, posters, articles and videos.
  • Make our materials accessible for your employees. Delta Dental can also translate written materials, such as plan information, to Braille or audio for blind and low-vision employees. Contact Customer Service to make a request.

Help your employees quit smoking for the Great American Smokeout

November is the perfect time to encourage your employees who smoke to quit. On the third Thursday of each November, the American Cancer Society sponsors the Great American Smokeout, a day to inspire people to stop smoking.

Supporting your employees through cessation is one of the most effective steps you can take to help improve their dental and overall health. In honor of the Great American Smokeout, help your employees who smoke create a plan to quit.

How smoking affects your employees’ health

About 34 million American adults smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, or about one in five of all deaths.

The total economic cost of smoking is more than $300 billion a year, including more than $225 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.

Most people know that smoking greatly increases the risk for many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. But smoking can also take a serious toll on oral health. The damage includes:

  • Tooth discoloration. The nicotine and tar in cigarettes can cause yellow or stained teeth.
  • Cavities. Consuming nicotine reduces saliva production in the mouth, and without enough moisture, plaque and tartar easily build up on the teeth, leading to cavities.
  • Gum recession. Smoking irritates the lining of the gums, causing them to pull back from the teeth. Nicotine from smoking or vaping reduces blood flow to the teeth and gums, which also contributes to gum recession.
  • Gum disease. Smoking weakens the immune system, which makes smokers more vulnerable to developing gum disease. Smokers have twice the risk of gum disease compared with non-smokers, and that risk increases the more you smoke.
  • Tooth loss. Male smokers are up to 3.6 times more likely to lose their teeth than non-smokers, while female smokers are up to 2.5 times more likely.
  • Oral cancer. Tobacco is the major risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat. Smokers are 10 times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer.

Resources for the Great American Smokeout

Quitting smoking isn’t easy. Cessation often requires long-term support. To have the best chance of quitting and remaining smoke-free, your employees will need to know the facts: what they’re up against, what their options are and where to go for help.

Use the following resources as reminders and encouragement for your employees:

How oral health can help your employees in the fight against diabetes

One in three Americans will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime if current trends continue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chances are a significant number of your employees are — or will be — seriously affected by the disease.

The estimated annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. is more than $327 billion, meaning that almost one in four dollars spent on health care is used to care for people with diabetes. The estimated cost in lost productivity alone is $90 billion. And research shows that the higher health care spending associated with diabetes actually begins well before diagnosis.

Fortunately, early screening and detection can help delay or even prevent complications from diabetes. Evidence suggests that periodontal changes are the first clinical manifestation of the condition. Regular dental check-ups can play a crucial role in reducing the devastating toll of diabetes.

November is American Diabetes Month, so it’s the perfect time to raise awareness and share resources with your employees. It’s important to highlight the role of regular check-ups in early diagnosis, as well as the importance of oral health care in managing diabetes.

The role of oral health care in diabetes

Many of your employees with diabetes probably aren’t even aware that they have the disease. As many as 20% of people who have diabetes don’t know they do, according to the CDC, and most with prediabetes (84%) are unaware of their condition.

Diabetes causes serious problems throughout the body, and the mouth is no exception. Diabetes can increase the sugar in saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. It also reduces the body’s ability to fight oral infection. People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing gum disease, which can lead to pain, chewing difficulties and even tooth loss.

An oral exam can help detect diabetes because, like many other conditions, it often shows its first symptoms in the mouth.

Oral symptoms of diabetes to watch out for include:

  • Red, tender or swollen gums
  • A reduced or altered sense of taste
  • Bleeding gums
  • Dry mouth
  • A burning sensation in the mouth
  • Chronic bad breath or bad taste
  • Teeth that are loose or separating from each other
  • Oral infections that are slow to heal

Educate your employees on diabetes and oral health

Consider posting these early warning signs on your company’s website or social media, and advise employees experiencing symptoms to tell their dentist or physician. If symptoms are detected early enough, your employees can not only delay but possibly prevent progression.

Try some of these resources to help remind your employees of the importance of early diagnosis during American Diabetes Month:

Remind employees with diabetes to take time to check their mouths regularly for any problems and to visit the dentist for check-ups and cleaning.

Offer support to employees with diabetes

If you don’t already, consider offering SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as part of your employees’ dental package. Available for Delta Dental PPO™ plans, SmileWay Wellness Benefits are specifically for employees diagnosed with chronic health conditions such as diabetes. The benefits can provide these employees with additional annual cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with these conditions.

Eligible enrollees can receive these added benefits each calendar or contract year:

  • 100% coverage for one scaling and root planing procedure per quadrant (D4341 or D4342)
  • 100% coverage for four procedures from the following list, in any combination:
    • Prophylaxis (D1110 or D1120)
    • Periodontal maintenance procedure (D4910)
    • Scaling in the presence of moderate or severe gingival inflammation (D4346)

If your company offers SmileWay Wellness Benefits, remind employees they can easily opt in online by logging in and navigating to the optional benefits.

During American Diabetes Month, don’t forget to remind your employees about the central role oral health can play in preventing and managing diabetes.

How COVID-19 brought challenges and solutions in dentistry for seniors

Times of crisis call for creative solutions, and that’s never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovative dentists have sought to adapt many aspects of their practices, but especially those involving the most vulnerable segment of our population: older adults.

New challenges for seniors’ oral health

For many seniors, even before the advent of COVID-19, physical limitations, systemic disease, cognitive decline and dependence on caregivers could all lead to an overall decline in oral health. What’s more, the pandemic worsened many of these same problems while presenting new ones.

“COVID-19 laid bare weaknesses in our elder care system,” said moderator Stephen K. Shuman, DDS, MS, in a webinar on pandemic-related disruptions in oral health care hosted by the Gerontological Society of America.

Some of the challenges in oral health care for seniors during the pandemic have included:

  • Reduced access. Early in the pandemic, many dentists’ offices shuttered, and even when they reopened, fear of COVID-19 led many older adults to delay or entirely forego visits to the dentist’s office. Nearly half of U.S. adults reported delaying dental care due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring of 2020, and the increased risk posed by COVID-19 to seniors likely exacerbated the problem among older adults.
  • Reduced care. In long-term care facilities, daily brushing, flossing and other routine care tasks were sometimes put on the back burner as COVID-19 diverted staff members to provide more urgent care to those affected or at risk. Proper oral care could also be challenged by staff members’ fears about the potential for oral transmission of COVID-19. Staffing shortages in facilities and on oral care teams made the situation worse. Georgia and Minnesota reported staffing shortages in long-term care facilities of more than 25% during the pandemic, and a recent poll from the ADA Health Policy Institute found that more than 80% of owner dentists who are currently hiring consider recruitment of dental hygienists and assistants to be extremely or very challenging at this time.
  • Psychosocial problems. The loneliness, anxiety and depression caused by shelter-at-home orders could themselves worsen oral health among older Americans.

Solutions in oral health care for seniors during the pandemic

Just as the COVID-19 presented new problems, it also created potential for positive long-term change.

Teledentistry and teletriage

Through necessity, many dentists began refining techniques for the use of teledentistry and teletriage, using telecommunications technology to deliver health services and information.

Some companies began implementing or built up their existing “pandemic teledentistry.” Teams used cloud-based electronic health records and taught long-term care facility staff how to take useful images of patient mouths and send them to centrally located dentists.

At the height of the pandemic, 24.8% of responding dentists reported they were conducting remote problem-focused evaluations through virtual technology or telecommunications, according to polling from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute.

Some innovative dentists used what they referred to as assisted, or guided, oral hygiene during the pandemic. They used the latest audio and video technology to guide a patient or caregiver as they carried out oral hygiene on a regularly scheduled basis.

Mobile dentistry

While the pandemic restricted mobile care in some cases, its primary advantage of reducing the need to transport at-risk seniors also caused it to emerge as another possible solution.

Many dentists were already accustomed to setting up mobile units in long-term care facilities even before the pandemic. Mobile dentistry helps reduce the potential for stress and confusion caused by moving older patients or those with dementia.  With the latest mobile equipment deployed to long-term care facilities, dentists are able to perform simple extractions, restorative work and more in a timely manner. As in many dental offices, mobile units often add an external dental suction that uses ultraviolet light and filters to remove pathogens from the air.

How to support your senior employees and relatives through the pandemic

COVID-19 presented extraordinary challenges to your senior employees, retirees and those caring for elderly relatives. The new solutions that helped maintain health care for older adults during the pandemic are likely here to stay.

To support your senior employees throughout the pandemic:

  • Communicate. Oral health care should never be placed on the back burner, and maintaining good communication with your employees is crucial to emphasize the importance of oral health. As always, keep in mind the systemic relationship between oral health and overall well-being. Use email campaigns, social media and other reminders to encourage the maintenance of oral hygiene routines among your senior employees throughout the pandemic.
  • Discuss new approaches. Teledentistry can now connect older adults with oral health care providers when they can’t visit a dental clinic or if there are restrictions on dental providers visiting residential facilities. The option is available at no added cost under Delta Dental PPO™ and Delta Dental Premier® plans, so discuss teledentistry with your employees if you think it might be right for them.

Tips for remote work a year into the pandemic

When coronavirus hit, many offices sprang into action and adapted to remote working environments. As we settle into our second year of living with a pandemic, there’s still much room for improvement in our day-to-day work lives. If you or your employees are working from home, consider sharing these tips to keep them in top mental and physical shape.

Create boundaries

When the lines between home and office blur, maintaining a proper work/life balance can be a challenge. Setting boundaries is important to both getting work done and knowing when the workday is done.

  • Separate your working and living spaces. While you likely didn’t choose your home based on the idea that you’d be working from it daily, carving out a space that’s dedicated to work is a great way to stay on task. Working from bed or a couch can muddle the idea of your home as your sanctuary. Find a corner where you can set up a desk and use it as your office.
  • Stay on schedule. Without a train to catch or traffic to beat, workers have gained back some of their valuable time. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American worker gained more than half an hour of leisure time in 2020. While it may be tempting to stay online past normal working hours, burnout is real and affected more than two thirds of the remote workforce last year. One report even found that people worked an average of 26 extra hours a month during the pandemic. For your mental health, disconnecting is vital. Set a schedule and stick to it to protect your personal time.
  • Limit distractions. Setting boundaries goes both ways. Just as you should protect your personal space and time, you should also remember when you’re on company time. Sharing your space with family and roommates can invite limitless distractions. If you can’t physically close a door behind you, communicate your working hours with the people you live with and set strict time limits for work and breaks. 

Set routines

In uncertain times, a little routine can go a long way. Creating a routine, the way you would if you were going into an office every day, helps give your day structure and can lower stress and encourage focus.  

  • Dress professionally. Yes, one of the perks from working from home has been escaping from the confines of structured suits and other constrictive workwear for cozy sweatpants. While you should absolutely be comfortable while you work, our brains can form a Pavlovian response to these kinds of clothes. Putting on professional attire is a great way to tell your brain that it’s time to buckle down and tackle the to-do list.
  • Build a routine. Routines give us a sense of structure, accomplishment and well-being. Give yourself time before work to savor coffee, do some journaling, read or go for a jog. If you’re not an early bird, reward yourself after work with some quiet time or a favorite show.

Stay healthy

The American Psychological Association recently reported that 61% of Americans experienced “undesirable weight gain” during quarantine. If you picked up some bad habits in the past year, you’re far from alone. Luckily, there are little things you can do throughout the day to get back on track.

  • Take more meaningful breaks. By now, you’ve heard the importance of getting away from your computer screen a few times a day. If you walk away from your computer screen only to find yourself staring at your phone screen, find other ways to occupy that time. Go for a walk around the block or do a few yoga stretches.
  • Stay on top of your oral health. The American Dental Association reported that routine dental visits were down 20% last year. If you’ve been snacking at your computer, breaks are a great time to squeeze in an extra brushing or flossing to keep your mouth healthy and refreshed.
  • Invest in ergonomics. If you’re still working from an old dining room chair or using an old TV dinner tray for a desk, it’s time to upgrade — your body will thank you for it. Haphazard workstations and poor posture can wreak havoc on your body. It can even cause jaw pain. Proper ergonomics doesn’t need to equal expensive new furniture. Often, a few height adjustments can work wonders. Check out this checklist to adapt your workstation. 
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