Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: COVID-19 (Page 1 of 4)

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.

3 reasons your employees expect great dental insurance now

The pandemic has changed how we work, how we interact and how we think about our health and safety. Attitudes toward oral health have changed, too, and dental insurance has become more important than ever. 

Here are some of the top reasons why your employees expect great dental benefits now and how Delta Dental can help you provide them with what they’re looking for.

1. The pandemic has increased the need for dental benefits

Although dental offices are open and many patients have resumed regular visits, the pandemic is still taking a toll on the nation’s oral health.

Nearly half of U.S. adults reported delaying dental care due to the pandemic. And a 2021 survey showed a major increase, up to 71%, in stress-related oral health conditions during the pandemic, with more than a quarter of the dentists reporting an increase in cavities and gum disease.

Employees need strong dental plans to handle the health issues arising due to the pandemic. Comprehensive dental coverage can also help them reduce the chances for serious (and expensive) health issues down the line. 

With Delta Dental PPO™ and DeltaCare® USA plans, you can meet the demand with affordable, flexible plans with great features that encourage access to preventive care, like maximum waivers for diagnostic and preventive services.

2. Employers must boost benefits to combat the Great Resignation

The pandemic has triggered an exodus from the workforce that economists have labeled the “Great Resignation.” One of the top reasons employees are giving for leaving a job is lack of adequate benefits. 

As the pandemic reshapes the labor market, companies like yours must rethink and retool benefits to attract and retain talent. Employers who offer dental already know that employees consistently rank dental insurance as one of the most important benefits in making a job decision. Offering a comprehensive benefits package that includes robust dental coverage has become more crucial than ever.

You can help your company remain competitive by offering a dental plan that stands out. With Delta Dental, you can create or enhance plans with attractive added benefits that employees want, like coverage for popular but costly services such as implants and orthodontics.

3. Patients want teledentistry as an option

Fear of returning to the dentist caused teledentistry to boom during the pandemic, with more patients using the technology than ever before. For instance, Delta Dental’s synchronous and asynchronous teledentistry claims in 2021 were six times and two times higher than 2019 levels, respectively.

Many consumers grew accustomed to using teledentistry during the pandemic, and they want to have it as an option moving forward for its safety and convenience. Satisfaction levels with teledentistry services during the COVID-19 pandemic were 100% in the satisfied and very satisfied categories, according to one recent study, and 96% of participating patients in another study said they would use the service again.

When your employees are covered under a Delta Dental PPO or Delta Dental Premier plan, they have two options for free-to-access, easy-to-use teledentistry platforms.

And with Delta Dental, your employees can still see a dentist in person after choosing a virtual dentistry appointment. Delta Dental’s teledentistry options give your employees access to the technology they want now.

Your employees need great dental benefits in a post-pandemic world

Employees value dental benefits now more than ever. If you haven’t already, consider increasing current benefits to keep your workplace competitive in the new post-pandemic marketplace. Whatever your needs, Delta Dental is here to support your company with affordable, quality plans.

Delta Dental’s community contributions in 2021

With the challenges and disruptions of the pandemic, 2021 looked very different from many years that came before it. But Delta Dental’s devotion to giving back to the community hasn’t wavered. We’re committed to caring for our dentists, customers and communities, especially during hard times. Here’s how Delta Dental gave back during a challenging 2021.

Preparing for the future

Delta Dental's 2021 giving included $1.5 million to fight food insecurity, $2 million to scholarships and education, $13 million to health centers, $3.5 million to disaster relief and community giving, $400,000 in company matching donations, 25,000 dental kits, 6,000 volunteer hours and $400,000 in employee donations.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation’s Access to Care Grants totaled more than $12 million in 2021. Dental clinics across the country — from the Kids’ Community Clinic in Burbank, California, to the Ryan Health Center in New York — received these awards to help underserved individuals in our communities get preventive and restorative treatments in accessible locations.

Our scholarships and research grants supported partnerships for education and the development of future dental professionals. Our educational giving included a $700,000 donation to make the CATCH Healthy Smiles oral health program free in schools across the country for children in kindergarten through second grade.  The program is designed to improve the oral health of students by teaching about and encouraging proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques, a nutritious diet and regular visits to a dentist.

Fighting food insecurity and responding to disaster

Forty-two million people may face hunger in the U.S. — including more than 13 million children — because of the pandemic, according to Feeding America. Delta Dental is committed to addressing food insecurity. In 2021, we gave $1.5 million to food banks to help them respond to the challenges of the pandemic and serve communities in need.

This year was also marked by natural disasters, and Delta Dental was there to provide support. Through our Disaster Fund, we continued our longtime partnership with the Red Cross. We also provided support for wildfire recovery in California and helped with recovery from Hurricane Ida in New Orleans through the Greater New Orleans Project and the St. Bernard Project.

Community councils

Delta Dental has four employee-led community councils that provide small grants to causes and events that employees are passionate about. In 2021, we funded a broad range of causes and issues through our community councils, from social justice and education to chronic disease research and education. Local nonprofits received roughly $700,000 from our community councils.

Committed volunteers

Service is a core value at Delta Dental. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, many of our employees volunteered and donated in 2021.

Employees have so far volunteered nearly 6,000 hours and donated nearly $400,000 ― which the company has matched ― to roughly 800 different causes, from animal welfare and conservation to chronic diseases and supporting our troops. Our employees also assembled and helped distribute nearly 25,000 dental kits to those in need including children, adults with chronic health conditions, seniors, veterans and more.

Looking ahead

In 2022, we’ll still face many of the challenges of the previous years. But no matter what lies ahead, we remain committed to providing support for our communities.

COVID-19 by the numbers

The early days of the pandemic brought a tidal wave of changes to businesses and their employees. Navigating this new normal can be tricky, especially since the situation seems to be changing daily. Looking at the changes that occurred during the pandemic can help you understand what trends to anticipate and how to prepare your benefits offerings accordingly.

Let’s take a high-level look at how COVID-19 impacted workers, dentists and the dental insurance industry, as well as a deep dive into claims data, patient surveys and expert opinion.

The rise of teledentistry

During the early stages of the pandemic in the United States, dental offices were closed to physical appointments for weeks. This led to a massive surge in the popularity of teledentistry services. Synchronous appointments (those with live phone or video interaction between dentists and their patients) saw a 3,000% increase between 2019 and 2020, according to Delta Dental claims during that period. Asynchronous appointments (where patients took photos or videos that were sent to a dentist for later review) saw a 1,000% increase in the same period.

The use of teledentistry has declined as the pandemic has worn on and dentist offices have reopened, but 2021’s synchronous and asynchronous appointment numbers still remain six times and two times higher than 2019 levels, respectively.

More states also updated their teledentistry laws during the pandemic. Based on Delta Dental’s internal tracking, 14 states added teledentistry regulations to their laws or expanded existing regulations, including states such as Texas that previously hadn’t allowed the practice of teledentistry at all.

Most importantly, in a phone survey of teledentistry patients during the pandemic, patients expressed widespread satisfaction with their options. This aligns with pre-pandemic expectations about teledentistry. Of those surveyed before the pandemic, 78% expected to use teledentistry within the next five years. That same group anticipated that working people, children and people with disabilities would benefit the most from teledentistry.

Dentists also had praise for teledentistry, with over 80% of dentists identifying it as useful for improving access to oral care, increasing specialists’ access to rural and underserved communities and as a time-saving technique. 

Virtual visits may not replace in-person checkups, but they remain a valuable tool for employees to get expert opinions and feedback when they can’t make it into the dentist office or prefer a remote appointment.

Providing alternatives for employees who can’t make it to the dentist office

The beginning of the pandemic was marked by profound economic uncertainty as dental practices closed and people sheltered in place. General practitioner income dropped nearly 18% in 2020 compared to 2019.

To help keep dental practices open and seeing patients, Delta Dental offered network dentists loans and reimbursements for personal protective equipment (PPE) costs and made free teledentistry tools available to members.

Loans offered in partnership with Provide (formerly Lendeavor) allowed dentists to make purchases, stay on top of debts and pay staff to ensure that they could keep their doors open. Delta Dental also offered a supplemental reimbursement to help offset the costs of PPE and office cleanings, ensuring that dentist offices remained safe for staff and patients alike.

The pandemic saw the rollout of two teledentistry options for Delta Dental members:

  • Virtual Consult is a synchronous service where members can use a smart device to have a live video chat with a Delta Dental dentist.
  • Toothpic is an asynchronous service that allows members to take photos of problem areas and get an assessment from a Delta Dental dentist within 24 hours.

These teledentistry tools allowed Delta Dental members to get expert advice and feedback on their dental needs even when they couldn’t make it into the office.

How people used their benefits

The early stages of the pandemic saw a decline in the number of patients going to the dentist’s office. One of the main reasons for the decline was that the sharp economic shutdown led to over 20 million Americans losing their jobs (PDF) and their dental coverage as well.

This decline had a profound effect on the nation’s oral health. In 2019, the most common procedures according to Delta Dental claims data were either routine preventive care or evaluations for specific issues. This shifted in 2020, when some of the most common procedures were fillings and root planing. 

Instead of staying on top of their dental health with low-cost diagnostic and preventive care, people instead required more expensive procedures to address the effects of dental neglect.

In addition to the economic hardships COVID-19 brought to patients, COVID also increased mental and emotional strain. Since the pandemic began, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders has risen to over 40% from about 10%.

These symptoms can manifest in jaw clenching and teeth grinding. Based on Delta Dental claims data, the number of patients requiring occlusal guards to prevent damage rose nearly 10% in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Anxiety and depression can also lead to an unhealthy diet or substance abuse, which can in turn lead to oral health issues such as cavities. This may also help to explain the surge in fillings and scaling and root planing procedures in 2020.

Health and safety in the dental office

Even though COVID-19 is spread by exhaled aerosolized droplets, visits to the dentist’s office proved safer than visiting any other medical professional during the pandemic. 

Nearly 100% of dentist offices rapidly adopted enhanced infection control measures like pre-appointment screenings, in-office air purification and antiviral mouthwashes. 

Once vaccines became available, they saw widespread adoption amongst dentists, even before state and federal mandates. By the second quarter of 2021, over 90% of dentists had received at least one vaccination shot for COVID-19.

Patients also view dentists as valuable sources of information about their overall health in addition to their oral health. Two-thirds of dentists reported receiving questions from patients about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the ADA (PDF).

Dentists rose to the occasion, with over 80% reported feeling prepared for these discussions and 95% believing it was important to have such discussions with patients. For employees who may be hesitant to get the COVID vaccine, speaking with trusted health professionals like dentists may help persuade them of the efficacy of getting vaccinated.

What did we learn from COVID-19?

Here are three key takeaways for employees and your business as you look to the future.

  • Encourage employees to use their benefits even during times of crisis. During the early stages of the pandemic, going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning was likely far from most people’s minds. Letting oral health slide in the short term can lead to costly and painful issues in the long term. Teledentistry tools can help employees get expert evaluation, even when they can’t make it into the dental office.
  • Let employees know what resources are available to them. Studies have shown that most people don’t really understand how insurance works. Your help as an insurance expert can go a long way towards letting employees know what kind of coverage and resources are available to them. There are plenty of benefits materials available for you to download and share with employees. Additionally, initiatives like Smile On can help employees maintain their coverage even in the face of economic uncertainty.
  • Consider benefits as part of your employees’ total wellness. Dental benefits are essential for helping employees maintain their overall health and wellness. Many ailments have symptoms that manifest in the mouth, including stress and anxiety. Valuable employee benefits can also help ease employees’ stress about staying healthy and paying for care. When your employees know how to make the most of those benefits, they’re more likely to catch and treat minor issues before they become major ones.

Has COVID-19 changed open enrollment forever?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused long-lasting changes to our priorities as a society and as individuals. From canceled events, working from home and separation from friends and family, employees and employers have had to adapt. It’s no wonder that the uncertainty of the pandemic has created changes in open enrollment.

Greater focus on the whole family

In the past year and a half, many adults became caregivers for their parents and took on education roles for their children while also working full-time. Employees are looking for benefits that extend to their family members and benefits that make the care of their family easier, like family and medical leave, assisted living coverage and child care coverage. Getting the whole family covered even extends to furry friends; the number of pets insured in North America has increased 23% since 2019.

Mental health services are more important than ever

The stress and difficulty of the pandemic have taken a toll on mental health. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who reported symptoms of anxiety and depression increased from 36% to 42% between August 2020 and February 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before the pandemic, Americans only chose virtual options for mental health care 20% of the time. After the pandemic started, the American Psychiatric Association saw their own members’ usage of telehealth services jump to 85%.

Employers are responding by offering mental health benefits that include access to online resources and apps that address stress and difficulty sleeping. About 70% of employers planned to start, continue or expand investment in mental health resources in 2021, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company. Employers who invest in mental health coverage get results. Almost 86% of employees who are treated for depression symptoms show substantial improvement in work performance, according to one study.

Employees expect to keep using telehealth options

While virtual visits won’t completely replace in-person visits any time soon, they’re definitely sticking around. Telehealth visits spiked during March 2020, but there were 10 times more telehealth visits in March 2021 than in March 2020, according to a market report.

Employees are using telehealth services and, in many cases, they expect to keep using it. In some cases, patients rated their interactions with their providers higher when they had virtual appointments than in-person.

To appeal to a variety of employee preferences, Delta Dental offers two different kinds of virtual dentistry: video-based and photo-based.

Virtual events preferred over in-person

With many employees still working from home and continually changing safety recommendations, in-person enrollment events are still being pushed online. Luckily, virtual enrollment has advantages for you and your employees. Instead of fielding phone calls and emails all day, you can update your website in real time to address common questions. Your employees can research and select benefits without having to keep track of physical papers or even leave the house.

What do successful virtual open enrollment events look like? A study by Flimp Communications concluded that a high-performing open enrollment campaign includes:

  • Microsites. These websites are customized to fulfill your group’s specific benefits needs with unique visuals, video and copy and can be used to address employees’ frequently asked questions.
  • Video. Both short-form and long-form video have a place in your campaign. A short-form video may simply be a quick, supplemental explainer and a long-form video would be more detailed and available for employees on demand.
  • Links. Linking out to your enrollment portal, to helpful PDFs, contact pages or financial-wellness portals helps employees sign up for and best utilize their benefits.
  • Decision support. Tools that collect all key benefits information into one place and then make recommendations based on algorithms or questionnaires had higher-than-average engagement.
  • Analytics. With real-time analytics, you and your team can adjust to help employees answer questions online. When you know what drives traffic, what people want, and when people want it, you’ll be even better prepared for next time.

The pros and cons of virtual events

Technology has its limits, however. The Pew Research Center found that only 26% of internet users aged 65 years or older felt very confident when using electronics to get things done online. If all your materials are online, make sure they’re easy to find for all employees, regardless of skill with technology. That means clearly labeling links and having logical paths through your website, as well as making sure all materials can be easily downloaded and viewed without special software.

In that same vein, virtual open enrollment gives you the opportunity to make materials accessible to employees with disabilities. Gaps in accessibility can leave individuals with visual, hearing and motor disabilities unable to make informed decisions about their health care.

Open enrollment changes motivated by COVID-19 may be here to stay. Adapt your open enrollment offerings to serve employees’ needs during and beyond the pandemic. Being flexible and responsive helps ensure your employees understand their benefits for the year ahead and are able to get the coverage they need.

It’s time to get comfortable with casual dress codes

The business formal dress code has been dying for decades. The rebellious anti-dress codes of ‘70s Silicon Valley spread slowly through American offices until business casual struck even the most old-school firms in the 1990s. The rise of the tech start-up in the 2000s has slackened dress codes even more. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, dress codes are relaxing even more.

The pandemic has shifted employee expectations

After more than a third of American workers spent the better part of a year working from home, getting them back to the office may be enough of a problem. Getting them back into blazers and slacks? That may not happen at all.

Casual dress policies have long been considered a perk, but for some workers they’ve been turning into a requirement for some workers. The shift from soft and stretchy loungewear at home to less comfortable clothes is just not desirable for employees., especially in a market where businesses are struggling to hire.

What’s the point of your dress code?

It’s important for your company to nail down why it has the dress code it does to see whether it can change. Is it the desire to be perceived externally as professional? Is the goal to maximize productivity? If so, how is your dress code maximizing productivity?

There’s a popular belief that to work their best, employees need to dress their best and that can be true. Wearing a suit may give a sales representative more confidence and authority, but people in other positions may not need those boosts to be efficient in their job. It may be more distracting dealing with shoes that hurt your feet or slacks and button ups that are too heavy for the summer heat. In those cases, the cons of uncomfortable clothing may out weight the pros.

The financial burden of formal dress codes

It’s easy to say that people who have uncomfortable work attire should just buy new clothes, but is that always reasonable? Work suits can cost hundreds of dollars and professional clothes for women can be prohibitively expensive and the costs can add up quickly. Business casual outfits cost much less on average which allows workers to invest in more options and replace uncomfortable workwear.

For women, makeup and hair care present an additional financial burden as well as a considerable time commitment. Women spend an average of 55 minutes on grooming and $8 worth of makeup each day. Many women have reported that they intend to leave additional grooming behind after a year of not needing to go through their routines.

Online work and relaxed dress codes may help lessen the divide between the cost of men and women’s work wardrobes will hopefully lessen. If your weight fluctuates, you don’t need to buy a full suit or new dress to be comfortable and professional on video calls. Casual or no makeup can free up time to get other things done, so you’re less stressed while working.

Finding the balance

For most companies, returning to in office work in some capacity is a necessity. This is the opportune moment for a company to reassess its dress code to prioritize productivity, diversity and inclusion and the company culture they want to cultivate. Figuring out a way to balance an employee’s expectations of comfort and financial investments with what is an actual necessity for your company is a great place to start.

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