The direction of dental benefits is changing. There is a new focus on designing dental programs to support the connection of oral health to overall health. Agents who stay on top of the dental research and emerging trends will have a competitive advantage in advising their clients on how to save money through achieving a healthier member base.
With this new model of dental benefits that continues to evolve and grow, employers will be looking to their agents to explain the impact of oral health on overall health. Agents will benefit by understanding the emerging research on the relationship of oral and overall health for specific conditions and the impact it can have on medical costs. Additionally, agents should be aware of the strategies dental and medical carriers are implementing to address this and know how dental benefits are evolving to a “personalized benefit” model.
The history of dental benefits
For more than 50 years, dental benefits have been a valued employee benefit. Since their earliest days, dental benefits have been provided by employers to attract and retain employees. Until recently, dental plans have been designed as a financial exchange — an employer paid some amount of premium for a defined amount of dentistry for their employees.
In the early days, there were often no discounts available from provider networks and no real management of the care that was delivered. In the last thirty years, provider networks that offer discounts have been developed and they are often subject to some utilization management. Annual benefit maximums have remained relatively unchanged as compared to cost of care’s inflation and there has been little innovation in benefit designs.
Today, most plans offer provider networks with differing levels of discounts and high levels of customer service. Even though dental benefits are beginning to reach a tipping point where the cost of the premium could overtake the value of the benefit, they remain one of the most highly valued and desirable employee benefits.
Oral health and overall health: An important link
Over the last decade, a great deal of scientific evidence emerged which identified a relationship between oral health and overall health. These studies have focused on the correlation between chronic oral infection and inflammation (periodontal or gum disease) and medical conditions such as stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
In fact, 120 disease symptoms can be detected in the mouth by a dentist and one out of every two people in the United States has some form of periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. It is the most significant dental disease affecting adults and the severity increases with age. More than 75 percent of people over age 35 will be affected by some type of periodontal disease.