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Study: Dental benefits can help employers improve workforce, their bottom line

January 30, 2018

By David Burger

New York — Employers whose employees regularly use their dental benefits will see fewer claims for major treatment — resulting in lower premiums for employers and reduced out-of-pocket costs for employees — according to a new study conducted by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

The results were published Jan. 23 in the fifth annual Guardian Workplace Benefits Study. Guardian is one of the largest mutual life insurers, with $7.4 billion in capital and $1.5 billion in operating income, with its offerings ranging from life insurance, disability income insurance, annuities, investments to dental and vision insurance and employee benefits, according to the company

Guardian looked at dental claims data over a six-year period, ending in 2017. Employer groups were categorized based on the utilization of preventive and major services within their companies, with the groups categorized as high-preventive utilization and low-preventive utilization employers.

The study found that the high-preventive utilization employer group spent 39 percent more on preventive care between 2011-2017, but 86 percent less on major and restorative dental services. This high-utilization group had 16 percent lower preventive and major dental claims costs than the low-preventive utilization employer group.

The study also revealed that access to dental coverage encourages good oral health, which translates into a number of positive benefits for workers.

"Regular preventive care can help in early detection since the initial symptoms of many chronic conditions may appear in the mouth," said Dr. Randi Tillman, chief dental officer at Guardian, in an ADA News interview. "In our study we found that those who visit the dentist regularly report better overall health and emotional wellness. The dentist may be the first to notice such signs as dry mouth, chronic inflammation of the gums, lesions on the oral mucosa or acidic erosion on the enamel of the teeth. These are just a few examples of the signs which may be noticeable to the dentist and could be indicative of a more serious medical condition."

The study further found that more than one in four adults fail to go to the dentist once a year, and millennials are among the least likely to go to the dentist two times a year, citing many reasons why they don't go to the dentist for annual check-ups. "Our findings are consistent with most of the previous research on this topic which indicates that cost is the primary reason for avoiding the dentist," said Dr. Tillman. "Additionally, lack of awareness and education about the importance of good oral health and regular preventive care are another reason millennials do not use their dental benefits or see a dentist regularly. Since cost pressures can lead individuals to avoid dental care altogether, employers should strive to keep premiums and out-of-pocket costs as low as possible, while still providing broad-based coverage. Additional incentives can include covering preventive services at 100 percent, excluding preventive services from the plan's maximum and waiving the deductible for preventive services, especially for in-network offices."

This is the first year that the Guardian's study focused on dental care. However, according to Dr. Tillman, "We have seen the consistent theme of benefits cost control as a top employer objective. Encouraging the use of wellness and prevention benefits, in general, is growing. There is heightened concern about controlling employer costs while lowering or at least stabilizing employee out-pocket expenses. Interest is rising in improving workforce wellness in general and more dental preventive care is part of a healthier workforce strategy for reining in costs."

Researchers conducted the study in the spring of 2017, with it consisting of two online surveys: one among 2,000 employers and another among 1,700 employees.

To view a copy of the study, visit guardiananytime.com.