Approximately 120 medical conditions can be detected through a simple oral health exam. If employees are visiting their dentist or dental hygienist regularly, some conditions may be spotted before a healthcare provider’s diagnosis. But this, according to Tom Dolatowski, vice-president, business development with Delta Dental Plans Association, is just one of the many reasons that employers shouldn’t put dental benefits on the chopping block during these tough times.

According to Dolatowski, people who have good oral health are healthier overall, which leads to lower healthcare costs for employers.

In fact, the research he presented in his recent webinar stated that 70% of employees with dental benefits accessed care on a regular basis compared with only 50% of those without dental coverage. He says that employees will neglect their oral care if dental benefits are taken away, and even suspending coverage for a short time could have negative effects on overall medical costs for employers.

“Every dollar spent on prevention reduces expenses by $4 in treatment,” he says.

Cost controls
Dolatowski suggests a few ways other than terminating or reducing dental benefits to increase cost savings:

1. Consider employee contribution strategies: Cost-sharing, co-pays and voluntary plans are possible solutions for employers that are concerned about costs. Dolatowski says an increase in the 10% to 20% range for employee contributions shouldn’t affect plan participation rates since dental expenses for employees are generally low.

2. Educate: Ensure employees understand the link between oral health and overall wellness.

3. Be creative: Look at your plan design and find ways to save without drastically reducing coverage. Dolatowski suggests ensuring that preventative measures are covered because these will pay for themselves in the long run.

Dental as a retention device
On the talent attraction and retention front, according to research done by Delta Dental, 80% of employees feel that prospective employers should have dental benefits.

Employees also viewed medical insurance (including coverage for prescription drugs) and retirement plans as important.

Organizations that are considering dropping their benefits or reducing coverage in this area could run the risk of losing employees to competitors. And that works both ways. Small- and medium-size employers could create a hiring advantage over their competitors by instituting coverage.

So, if you’re considering altering your dental benefits, keep in mind the possible long-term effects on your workforce and your expenses.

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