Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

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5 ways to encourage positive oral health habits among employees

National Employee Wellness Month is an opportunity for employers to recognize the importance of wellness in their employee’s lives. With stress and burnout on the rise, here are five ways you can encourage your employees to develop healthy oral habits.

Share discounts on popular oral care products from BrushSmart™

Help your employees upgrade their oral health routines with BrushSmart, a free oral wellness program available to all Delta Dental members. Delta Dental members who sign up receive access to special offers on popular brands and unlimited discount redemption.

Share this flyer or the website brushsmart.org with your employees.

Foster healthy habits at the office

Work takes up a major percentage of your employees’ lives. If their health and wellness is completely ignored during the workday, your employees will likely be at risk for a variety of oral and overall health issues. Habits like frequent unhealthy snacking, smoke breaks and even dehydration can contribute to poor health outcomes.

Encourage your employees to keep their wellness a priority while in the office by providing healthy snacks or even promoting smoking cessation programs. You could even create monthly competitions between departments to inspire employees to drink more water, walk further distances or even track healthy work snacks.

Send your employees our Employee Wellness Month campaign featuring tips, articles, video, recipes and more by clicking “Share” at the link.

Promote mental wellness

Did you know that oral health and mental health are deeply connected? People with mental health issues are less likely to take proper care of their oral health, and conversely, good oral health can enhance mental and overall well-being. Common mental health issues like depression, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder can exacerbate poor oral health by causing people to brush and floss less frequently, miss dental visits and eat unhealthy diets.

You can help your employees by posting reminder posters about brushing and flossing in common areas, encouraging hydration through water breaks and sharing information on any mental health programs your company has on the employee intranet.

Educate employees on the importance of oral health year-round

And don’t just limit yourself to June! Throughout the year, there are weeks and months dedicated to informing the public about wellness topics like nutrition, mental health and tobacco usage. These events are the perfect opportunity for you to share information on healthy habits with your employees.

Delta Dental maintains a free, annual wellness calendar highlighting national wellness campaigns that you can use to plan wellness campaigns. Additionally, Delta Dental has shareable emails campaigns, flyers, posters and even videos to help you share oral health and wellness information with your employees.


Health and wellness are a key component to maintaining a happy and effective workforce. By prioritizing the well-being of your employees, you’re investing in the health of your entire company.

5 ways to educate employees about oral cancer

Over 53,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2022, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Under 60% of those who are diagnosed with this disease can be expected to survive for five years after their diagnosis, but those rates can be significantly higher when the disease is detected and treated early. Dentists are often the first to spot oral cancers, so access to regular dental care can be lifesaving.

Here are five ways you can help protect your employees from oral cancer and support employees who receive a positive diagnosis.

1. Encourage your employees to get regular dental exams

As part of regular adult dental exams, dentists check for indications of oral cancer. This typically involves performing a physical examination and may also include asking patients about risk factors and tell-tale symptoms of the disease.

In addition to making it more likely that oral cancer will be caught in its earliest stages when its more treatable, regular visits to the dentist can help your employees’ heart health and even help diagnose diabetes.

All Delta Dental plans cover diagnostic and preventive services at low or no out-of-pocket cost to members.

2. Understand the risk factors for oral cancer

Age is frequently named as the primary risk factor for oral cancer, but it isn’t the only one. Over 20% of oral cancer cases occur in patients younger than 55. Smoking or using other tobacco products is a major risk factor for the development of oral cancer, as is alcohol abuse. Additionally, certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to oral cancer.

Fortunately, dentists are able to assist with all of these issues. For example, dentists are trained to identify the damage that smoking causes to the mouth and assist employees with quitting. As trained health professionals, dentists can also administer HPV vaccines to help protect their younger patients from developing oral cancer in the future.

To spread awareness, you can share these materials with your employees:

3. Be ready for employees’ questions

An employee who has just received a positive cancer diagnosis is likely to be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. Once the dust settles, employees will likely have questions about the logistical side of paying for treatment, job security and resources available to them as they battle cancer. You should be prepared to answer employees’ questions about the following topics:

  • Medical and prescription drug coverage, including cancer-specific programs
  • Employee assistance and cancer navigation programs
  • Leaves of absence
  • Workplace accommodations, including flexible scheduling
  • Wellness programs

4. Educate employees on the importance of dental care

Working with a dentist to maintain dental health is essential for employees who are battling cancer. Whether an employee has not yet begun treatment, is actively undergoing treatment or has already completed it, dentists are valuable allies.

Dentists can be sure to identify treat minor oral health issues such as fillings before chemo- or radiation therapy begin. They can also help employees deal with the side effects of treatment, such as dry mouth, reduced white blood cell count, mouth sores, pain and more.

5. Be supportive, attentive and encouraging

When an employee opens up about a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to respond with empathy. There are organizations that offer training on how to best manage and assist employees undergoing cancer and other challenges. In the absence of specialized training, you can be effective communicating with employees simply by being supportive and encouraging.

Examples of supportive statements include:

  • “I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, but we’re here to help however we can.”
  • “If you want to talk about this, I’m here. If you need space, that’s OK, too.”
  • “Let me know what I can do to help you.”

Encouraging statements might sound like:

  • “You’re a valuable member of this team, and we’ll work together to keep you on it.”
  • “I want to hear how you’re doing. Let’s check in regularly.”

One thing you don’t want to do is make your employee’s situation about anything other than the employee. You might want to avoid:

  • Offering advice if the employee hasn’t asked for it.
  • Trying to cheer up the employee or brushing off their concerns. This can seem to the employee like their feelings aren’t being validated.
  • Sharing stories about yourself or others. Unless the employee asks to hear such stories, let them focus on their own experiences instead and just listen — even if listening means being OK with silence.

The most important thing you can do for employees who are confronting oral cancer is to recognize that you and your company’s place is to be an ally. You can’t fight cancer for your employees, but you can ensure that they have the support and the resources they need to give it their all.

Does gum disease affect blood pressure?

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, and your employees need to be aware of the risks of hypertension and how to keep blood pressure under control. During their dental visits, employees can monitor their status through blood pressure checks.

The causal link between gum disease and hypertension

Patients with periodontitis and no other health issues are twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure as those with healthy gums, according to a March 2021 research study. Periodontal bacteria can trigger an inflammatory response that affects blood vessel function and lead to the development of hypertension.

Before a Delta Dental dentist starts an exam, a blood pressure check can reveal issues beyond oral health. Patients with gum disease may be at higher risk for hypertension, due to bacteria. Research has found a correlation between oral bacteria and plaque buildup in arteries.

A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Your employee should be concerned if the systolic/diastolic reading falls into one of these categories:

  • Elevated: 120–129 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg
  • Stage 1 Hypertension: 130–139 mm Hg or 80–89 mm Hg
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: >140 mm Hg or > 90 mm Hg

Hypertension can put your employees at risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the U.S. Nearly half (45%) the adults in the U.S. have hypertension or are taking medication to control it, and 24% of them have it under control. 

The dangers of gum disease

Gum disease triggers inflammation that thickens the lining of blood vessels. The thickening plaques decrease blood flow, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Patients with healthier gums had lower blood pressure and responded better to medications, compared to those with periodontitis, according to an analysis, published in Hypertension, based on review of medical and dental exam records of more than 3,600 people with high blood pressure.

What’s more, periodontal therapy can make a difference. Intensive periodontal treatment lowered blood pressure levels (12.67 mm Hg/9.65 mm Hg) in patients over six months, after a four-week intervention, according to a clinical study published in 2017 in the Journal of Periodontology.

During an office visit, the dentist can check blood pressure and alert the employee to risks if the reading is elevated. This first-line screening can ensure proper medical treatment can be given.

Educating your employees

As a benefits administrator, you can promote for blood pressure control awareness and healthy habits to your employees to help prevent serious health issues. In addition to adequate nutrition, exercise and sleep, you can emphasize the importance of regular checkups by health care providers.

You can encourage employees to take a quiz to determine their gum disease risk. Delta Dental dentists can explain how keeping gums healthy can contribute to better circulation and heart function through lowering blood pressure.

For employees with heart disease, you can offer SmileWay Wellness Benefits to give them incentives for keeping it under control. Their periodontal treatment and advice on daily flossing and brushing regimens add value to your employees’ plan, not only for oral health but also for heart health.

SmileWay Wellness Benefits help employees 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:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stroke

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!

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.

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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