Happy National Deaf History Month! If you haven’t heard of this awareness month, it runs from March 13 to April 15. Nearly 15% of adult Americans report trouble hearing, so you likely have some employees among your staff with hearing issues. They may not even be aware of it!
Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals face some unique challenges when it comes to getting dental care. Even making an appointment can be difficult. Fortunately, there are solutions available to ensure that no problem is insurmountable. Here are some of the common issues that deaf and hard of hearing employees may encounter and what tools are available to help solve them.
Challenges and considerations
The challenges that employees who are hard of hearing face when it comes to getting quality dental care can begin before they ever set foot in the office.
- Employees may have difficulty just making appointments. Not every office will have someone fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) on staff, but if an office isn’t set up to schedule appointments by text or email, it can be impossible for the hard-of-hearing to even step foot inside.
- Dentists that don’t speak clearly, slowly and while looking at employees make it hard to read lips. The deaf and hard-of-hearing may rely more on lip-reading than others. Seeing a dentist who is in a hurry or who talks while moving all about the practice can make it more difficult for the deaf and hard-of-hearing to follow what’s being said. To make things even harder, the fact that everyone is wearing masks because of COVID-19 only compounds this issue.
- Employees may not even realize that they’re hard-of-hearing. Because most everyone loses some of their hearing as they get older, the change can happen so gradually that the employee isn’t even aware of it. Younger employees can also develop hearing loss if they work in a loud environment or regularly attend loud events without proper hearing protection. For this reason, an attentive dentist who notices when their patients seem to have difficulty hearing them or following a conversation can be indispensable.
Solutions and tools
Whether employees have recently become hard of hearing or have been deaf since birth, there are two major tools available to help them.
- The Language Assistance Program (LAP). The LAP is a free service that Delta Dental members can use to get professional interpretive services for their non-English needs. This includes phone assistance, written materials and more, including an in-person translator when given 72 hours’ notice. Most importantly for employees who are deaf, this means that they can have an interpreter fluent in ASL accompany them to their dental visits!
- The Find a Dentist search tool. The Find a Dentist search tool is perfect for employees looking to find an in-network dentist that fits their specific needs. Employees can search by distance and specialty, but they can also search for dentists by the languages their offices support, such as ASL, and available accessibility features.
More than 35 million people in the United States report having trouble hearing, whether they suffer from mild hearing loss or are completely deaf. Fortunately, valuable services like the Language Assistance Program and thoughtful features like the Find a Dentist search tool make it easier for hard-of-hearing employees to get their dental needs taken care of.
The speed and efficacy with which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed is a testament to human ingenuity and the drive to create a safer world for us all. The three vaccines that are widely available in the U.S. (Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson) have all received emergency authorization by the FDA after demonstrating both efficacy and safety, but there are still some points you may want to consider when deciding on how your company should approach a vaccine policy.
What are my options as an employer?
There are three main courses of action you could take when it comes to employees and vaccines:
- Do nothing. This means choosing not to implement a company-wide vaccine policy and not advocating for and encouraging vaccinations. Doing nothing may not be the optimal choice from a public health perspective, but it’s certainly a valid one from a legal standpoint. Mandating or incentivizing vaccination could help to reduce increased costs or absenteeism from employees, but it can also expose your company to legal liability depending on how such policies are implemented (and how litigious employees are).
- Encourage and incentivize vaccination. This is a gentler approach than outright mandating vaccinations as a condition of continued employment. Encouraging employees to get vaccinated is legally safe, although it may run the risk of upsetting employees who don’t believe in vaccination, who have concerns about vaccine safety, who have health considerations that keep them from getting vaccinated or who simply don’t like feeling pressured when it comes to managing their health. Incentives, such as offering paid time off or a bonus to employees who get vaccinated, must be carefully implemented, however. Aside from the cost considerations that comes with bonuses and incentives, you may find yourself legally liable for any issues that arise if you implement on-site vaccinations.
- Mandate vaccination. This is an aggressive option, but it’s certainly the most effective from the point of prioritizing the health and safety of employees. Mandating that employees get vaccinated is generally legal (although it may not be in some states), but it’s possible that some implementations of such a policy could put you at legal risk (for example, setting up on-site vaccinations or inquiring about employees’ personal health to determine their eligibility for vaccination).
Which employees should get vaccinated first?
Until vaccines become more widely available, it’s best to prioritize employees who are most vulnerable to exposure and at greatest risk of complications from COVID-19. Of course, in health care and senior care industries, everyone with regular contact with the ill and elderly should be vaccinated. Outside of these industries, consider prioritizing:
- Employees who work in close physical contact
- Employees who have regular exposure to customers and other members of the public
- Employees who have regular exposure to heavily trafficked enclosed spaces, food products or other settings where infection may be a risk
- Employees who are 65 or older
- Employees who are 16–65 with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening COVID-19 complications
What are the risks of implementing a vaccine policy?
You could get into legal trouble if pre-screening vaccination questions aren’t job-related and consistent with the requirements of your business. To avoid this outcome, make sure that any pre-screening questions are related to the job and that you can prove that unvaccinated employees pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. Similarly, you could get into legal trouble if you attempt to prevent workers’ concerted activity, such as expressing opposition to mandatory vaccines.
Make sure to follow state and local laws, as well. Some locales may have prohibitions against mandating vaccines that aren’t required by state or federal law.
Setting a policy and moving forward
Before settling on the policy that’s best for your company and your employees, there are a few final things to consider.
- Make sure you follow all federal, state and local laws. You don’t want to put your organization at risk of legal exposure. Do some research to make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations.
- Get a sense of how employees feel. If you have employees who feel very strongly about vaccines, either adopting a mandatory policy or doing nothing may cause disquiet. Taking surveys of employee sentiments can be a good way to decide how to craft your message.
- Identify who should be doing the communication. Figures like respected managers, team leaders and union officials can be excellent ambassadors for your company’s policies, especially in larger organizations where employees may not have personal relationships with upper management.
- Be transparent. As always, communication is key when it comes to rolling out new policies that can affect employees’ work lives. Let employees know both what your COVID-19 vaccine policy is and how that position was reached. Be sure to listen to and address employee concerns, even if your policy remains firm.
Regardless of what policy you decide to implement, wearing masks and respecting social distancing will stay important aspects of infection management. Even as vaccines become more readily available, maintain practices and procedures to minimize the chance of infection and help your entire organization stay healthy.
More people are becoming aware of the way that health issues can manifest in the mouth and oral health issues can exacerbate other medical conditions. With serious issues like heart disease being responsible for so many deaths in the U.S., your employees may be interested in learning how good dental health can improve their overall health. If they have medical conditions that affect their oral health, SmileWay® Wellness Benefits may help meet their needs.
Who’s eligible for SmileWay Wellness Benefits?
Not everyone is eligible for SmileWay Wellness benefits. To claim these benefits, your employees must:
- Have a Delta Dental PPO™ plan
- Belong to a group that offers SmileWay Wellness Benefits
- Have chosen to opt in to the program
If your employees have been diagnosed with any of the following, then they are eligible for expanded coverage:
- Heart disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
What are the benefits?
If your plan includes SmileWay Wellness Benefits, then employees are eligible for these added benefits each calendar or contract year:
- 100% coverage for one scaling and root planning procedure per quadrant (D4341 or D4342)
- and 100% coverage for four of the following in any combination:
- Prophylaxis (D1110 or D1120)
- Periodontal maintenance procedure (D4910)
- Scaling in the presence of moderate or severe gingival inflammation (D4346)
If your employees have medical issues that necessitate extra dental care, consider adding SmileWay Wellness Benefits to your coverage and letting them know. These benefits can help keep your employees both smiling and healthy, and healthy workers are a win-win for your company!
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.
As employees finalize their open enrollment choices and begin looking towards 2021, you may be asking yourself what you can do to help them stay informed and healthy in the year to come. Fortunately, Delta Dental offers an assortment of themed wellness materials to help you offer employees relevant wellness content all year round.
For a quick look at the topics covered in 2021, check out this PDF.
Promoting wellness means approaching health from a holistic perspective. From holidays to awareness months, there are plenty of opportunities to remind employees to take care of both their oral health and their total well-being. Campaigns include everything from Glaucoma Awareness Month in January to holiday health in December, and each campaign is supported by a wealth of multimedia assets.
Whether you want to communicate with employees who are in the office or are working from home, whether your employees want to watch a video about wellness or read a flyer, there are materials available to suit your needs. Visit the wellness calendar page and you’ll find:
Our new 2021 calendar is available now, and full of great resources and materials to share with employees. From January through December, let’s make 2021 a great year for oral health and total body wellness!
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.