Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: oral-overall health connection

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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The cost correlation: Dental benefits may lower businesses’ overall health spend

4‑minute read

It’s common knowledge that oral health is linked to overall well-being. What might surprise you, however, is the significant impact your employees’ oral health status can have on your business’s total health care budget. In fact, of the top 10 health conditions costing employers the most, five are linked to oral health.*

#1 Diabetes
Topping the list of costliest employer conditions is diabetes, affecting nearly one in 10 Americans. Not only do diabetics face a higher than normal risk for developing oral health problems like periodontal disease and oral infections, but these problems may be more severe for a diabetic person. It’s not all bad news though. It’s been suggested that treating gum disease can help control blood sugar in diabetic patients, which may slow disease progression. And, receiving routine dentist cleanings and practicing healthy oral hygiene habits may help to lower HbA1c levels (average blood glucose over time).

#2 Cancer
Oral cancer is likely not the first cancer that comes to mind for most of us. Yet, head and neck cancers (85% of which are oral) account for approximately $3.2 billion in treatment costs each year.

Oftentimes, the early symptoms of oral cancers go unnoticed by patients, making them particularly dangerous. That’s why regular dental exams are so important. Dentists and dental hygienists may be able to identify the signs and symptoms of oral cancers when they’re still in the early or even pre-cancerous stages.

#5 Heart disease 

The dental industry has been aware of the correlation between heart disease and oral health for years, and supporting evidence continues to emerge. While we still can’t say the relationship between oral health and heart health is causal, new research suggests that poor dental health, including gum disease and infrequent toothbrushing, may be a risk factor for heart disease.

#6 Hypertension
Recently, an association between hypertension and dental health has also been found — specifically blood pressure control. A new study showed that those with gum disease were less likely to respond to hypertension medications than those with good oral health. The authors of this study go on to say that “those with high blood pressure might benefit from regular dental care”.

#10 High-risk pregnancy
Compared to the average employer medical costs for a healthy, full-term baby, the costs for premature and/or low-birth weight babies is nearly 12 times as much. While the relationship between periodontal disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes is still being explored, we do know that a mother’s health can impact her baby — and oral health is no exception. Research suggests that expectant mothers with poor oral health may face higher risks of pre-term delivery and of passing disease-causing bacteria to their child. This makes it even more important for expectant mothers to receive regular dental exams during pregnancy. The dentist can evaluate the individual needs of the mother and may even recommend an additional cleaning.

How can dental benefits help?

Regular dental care can help manage certain health conditions and even detect some early, which can help prevent costly medical expenses in the future.

However, your dental benefits may be able to do more than cover routine dental care to improve wellness. Ask these questions about your dental benefits to find out how they can boost overall health and your business’s bottom line:

  • Is there extra support for those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease? Providing additional coverage to enrollees with certain medical conditions may prevent or halt the progression of disease, which can help you manage dental and medical expenses down the road.
  • How can I track employees’ oral health status? Do I receive useful reports? Regular reporting on your enrollees’ oral health habits can highlight where your group is doing well and help identify areas where enrollees can improve oral health, and in turn, improve overall health.
  • How is oral health supported during pregnancy? Are additional cleanings covered? An extra cleaning during pregnancy can lead to healthier babies and may lower certain pregnancy risks associated with oral bacteria.
  • Are oral health and wellness resources readily available? Your enrollees may not even be aware of the impact oral health can have on their overall health. Carriers who provide valuable wellness resources can help encourage enrollees to be active participants in their oral health.

 

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*The oral health information in this article is not intended to be used as medical advice. Patients should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning oral health.

New, stronger evidence to support gum disease and heart disease correlation

The dental industry has been aware of the correlation between periodontal disease and a range of overall health issues for years, but there is new, more significant evidence to support the correlation between oral bacteria and heart disease.

A recent study found association between the virulence genes of several bacterial species that cause periodontal disease to atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries). Virulence genes are what make bacteria effective — in part by allowing bacteria to attach to healthy cells.

For the study, researchers took plaque samples from 65 patients with heart disease from plaque buildup in the arteries and from periodontal pockets, and concluded that the results “strongly correlate periodontal bacterial co-occurrence and periodontal bacterial adhesion factor to atherosclerosis.” This means that the presence of oral bacteria, and the bacteria’s ability to attach to cells, coincides with a higher risk ratio of atherosclerosis.

Previous research studied only the presence of oral bacteria in heart disease patients, but advancements in technology allowed researchers to study the virulence genes of several bacteria species to draw a stronger correlation.

This new evidence does not prove that the oral bacteria is causal, but it does raise more concern for the implications of gum disease — and highlights the importance of monitoring and improving oral health.

Want to learn more about gum disease or other oral health topics? Visit the Oral Health section of deltadentalins.com and encourage your employees to take our gum disease risk quiz.

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