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.
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.
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.
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.