Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Category: Wellness (Page 1 of 3)

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

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.

The surprising connection between oral health and diabetes

Perhaps more so than any other chronic condition, diabetes is connected to poor oral health. Worse, it’s a two-way street, because not only can diabetes worsen oral health, there’s also evidence that poor oral health can worsen diabetes.

Chances are, at least one of your employees is affected by the disease. Currently, more than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and as many as one in three American adults has prediabetes.

Diabetes can not only affect the health of your employees but also the health of your company. Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as they are for people without the disease, and these medical costs, combined with the cost lost work and wages, total more than $325 billion annually. And as an added risk, having type 2 diabetes, and possibly type 1 or gestational diabetes, increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

So how are diabetes and oral health linked, anyway?

People with diabetes are more susceptible to a number of serious oral health problems. For instance, diabetes can increase the sugar in saliva, which feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities. Ironically, it may also decrease the saliva in the mouth, which can lead to cavities.

Gum disease is also a risk because diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight oral infections and heal. Bacteria in infected gums can lead to bad breath, bleeding and swelling in the gums, mouth pain, and eventually loose teeth or tooth loss. It should also be noted that people with diabetes who smoke have a greatly increased risk of gum disease.

On the flip side, gum disease may affect blood sugar levels, which can worsen diabetes and make it harder to control.

And there’s another issue…

And that’s many people aren’t even aware they have diabetes. The CDC estimates that as many as 20% of the people who have the disease are unaware they have it, and that number leaps to 84% for people who have prediabetes.

Oral symptoms of diabetes to watch for include dry mouth, bad breath, a burning sensation in the mouth (also known as burning mouth syndrome or BMS), a reduced or altered sense of taste, oral yeast infections, new or worsening gum disease and oral infections that are slow to heal.

So, what can I do?

To help your employees maintain their oral and overall health, here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Ask employees to watch for the symptoms of untreated diabetes. Post the possible symptoms on your company’s website or social media feed, or consider blasting an informational email to employees.
  • Provide employees with oral health tips. Tips could include brushing for two to three minutes twice each day with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing daily, and eating a diet rich in mouth-friendly nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium. And be sure to take advantage of Delta Dental’s wellness content. For November, we’re offering a collection of diabetes-themed oral health emails, flyers and articles that are perfect for educating your employees.
  • Remind employees to use their dental benefits. Not surprisingly, people who have dental benefits are more likely to visit the dentist than people without them. But they’re also more likely take their children to the dentist and have better overall health than people without dental benefits, according to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) report.
  • Suggest that employees schedule regular diagnostic oral exams. Regular oral exams can help detect early signs of diabetes and well as other diseases.
  • If you don’t already, consider offering SmileWay® Wellness Benefits as a part of your employees’ dental package. Available for Delta Dental PPO™ plans, SmileWay Wellness Benefits provide employees with chronic health conditions such as diabetes with additional annual cleanings and gum treatments that help treat oral issues associated with the disease.

Teeth filing a dangerous trend for teens

A troubling trend has emerged on social media during the coronavirus outbreak: DIY teeth filing with household items such as nail files.

In June 2020, a 19-year-old TikTok user named Mia Dio posted a video of herself filing her teeth with a nail file. The video went viral. After being watched nearly a half million times, numerous TikTok videos have been posted showing young people filing their teeth.

Wait, what? Why would anyone do this?

In the video, Dio explains that she wants to remove imperfections in her teeth, but doesn’t want to spend the money for a professional procedure, such as an enameloplasty.

“We’re ballin’ on a budget!” she said.

Later in a Washington Post interview, Dio also said that she was reluctant to visit a dental during the current coronavirus pandemic. The TikTok videos also imply some confusion about the nature of tooth enamel which, unlike nails and hair, doesn’t regenerate.

Filing teeth can destroy tooth enamel, cause temperature sensitivity or injure teeth, which can result in costly dental procedures or even extraction.

Yikes! So what can I do about this?

Many dental professionals have taken proactive steps to ensure their patients and their families don’t try this. Some have decided to fight fire with fire by posting their own TikTok videos warning people about the danger of the practice.

To spread the word to your employees, steps you might consider include the following:

  • Send an email to your employees that explains this trend and warns them about the dangers. This may be especially effective for the parents of teens, who may not be aware of what their children watch on social media.
  • Post information on your company’s website, Facebook page or social media feed about the danger of this fad and safe alternatives.
  • Suggest safe alternatives for imperfect smiles that may be available through your company’s dental policy, such as cleanings, orthodontics, cosmetic procedures and professional teeth whitening.
  • Remind your employees that they can safely visit the dentist during the pandemic for any procedure they might need

However you choose to discuss it, ensure that your employees and their children understand that filing their own teeth is a terrible idea. And that the resulting damage can take a real bite out of their wallet.

As Dio said later in the Post interview, after she was explained what the risks were, “I probably would have thought twice about it.”

How dentists fight opioid addiction

There’s no shortage of issues confronting the country and the world today. Alongside COVID-19 and climate change, the opioid epidemic remains a major issue in the United States. Fortunately, there are steps that dentists can take to do their part to help combat addiction and abuse.

One of the simplest but most effective steps dentists can take involves prescribing alternatives to narcotics. Studies have found that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be a more effective pain management tool than simply prescribing opioids.

As Dr. Daniel Croley, our Vice President of Network Development, says, “We ask that all dentists consider non-addictive pain management as their first choice. When narcotics are needed, only prescribe the lowest dosage and quantity needed to effectively manage your patients’ pain.”

In honor of National Recovery Month, Delta Dental has launched an informational campaign to encourage dentists to educate themselves and their staff about the opioid epidemic. This includes letters sent directly to dentists, educational blog posts on the topic and new opioid-focused material in webinars.

We also encourage dentists to:

  • Stay on top of the latest developments in pain management
  • Talk openly and honestly with patients about their history before prescribing opioids
  • Follow ADA guidelines, which include education about opioids, limits on prescriptions, and drug monitoring

In the words of Dr. Croley, “Together, we can stop the overprescription and abuse of opioids.”

Grin! offers employees a free and fun wellness resource

Encourage your employees to brighten their smiles — and their days — with Delta Dental’s fun, informative and free e‑magazine: Grin!

Available in English and Spanish, this quarterly publication is full of useful and entertaining content, such as:

  • The latest news on dental care — including what to do during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Advice from experts
  • First looks at innovative technology
  • Fun features
  • Healthy recipes, and more

And because your employees’ dental health is strongly tied to their overall health, Grin! also explores how many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and depression, are related to dental care. In fact, you can learn how allergies and oral health are related in the recent summer issue.

See for yourself: Check out the latest edition of Grin! And it’s easy to subscribe. With just one click, you and your employees can receive all that Grin! has to offer, four times per year. 

Healthy, happy employees are the key to a productive workplace, and Grin! can help. Why not get started today? 

And if you do choose to subscribe to Grin!, be sure to download this free poster that you can use to promote this great resource to your employees.

Bacteria on the brain? Exploring the Alzheimer’s and oral health connection

2‑minute read

By now, you’ve probably seen the recent headlines highlighting a possible link between Alzheimer’s disease and poor oral health. You may be getting questions from enrollees, or even thinking about how this information could impact your own family. 

Alzheimer’s affects nearly 5 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. — so it’s no wonder that the potential dental connection is raising concerns. However, before your enrollees start panicking, and feverishly reaching for their toothbrushes, it’s important to set a few things straight about the research.

New evidence, but not a new idea

The potential link between Alzheimer’s and poor oral health is not a new discovery. In 2008, periodontal (gum) disease was already identified as a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Since then, the body of evidence supporting the link has only grown. A group of researchers identified P. gingivalis as the specific kind of oral bacteria associated with Alzheimer’s in 2013. Subsequent studies have found that this same type of bacteria, often the culprit for gum disease, can transfer from the mouth to the brain in mice. Once P. gingivalis enters the brain, it can create the characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The latest study making waves further explores the role of P. gingivalis in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. Researchers looked at brain tissue, saliva and spinal fluid from Alzheimer’s patients, and not only found evidence of P. gingivalis, but they also discovered the presence of a toxic enzyme created by P. gingivalis in 96% of the brain tissue samples examined. Once in the brain, this toxic enzyme can destroy brain neurons, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s.

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation

While the new study adds to the evidence that gum disease is associated with Alzheimer’s risk, not everyone who has Alzheimer’s has gum disease, and not everyone who has gum disease has Alzheimer’s. Additional research is needed to understand if and how a cause and effect relationship exists. While more needs to be learned, it’s still important to encourage enrollees to prevent and manage gum disease, especially in older adults or individuals who have increased risk for dementia.

Oral health is just one piece of the puzzle

Alzheimer’s is linked to a host of risk factors, not just poor oral health. Genetics, heart health, diabetes, hypertension, exercise and diet may also play a role, just to name a few. Here’s the good news — by encouraging enrollees to prioritize oral health, you may also be helping improve their overall health! Send enrollees to our SmileWay® Wellness site for resources to protect their smiles and well-being for years to come. 


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