Should more importance be placed on dental care?

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  • Employers and employees both believe dental health helps overall wellbeing.
  • Employers’ interest in dental healthcare is increasing as they seek low-cost but desirable benefits.
  • Employers can share the cost of dental benefits with staff.
  • The increasing scarcity of NHS dentists, plus rising private dentistry costs, is expected to boost dental plan take-up.

Dental care is recognised as an important factor in employees’ health, and a growing number of employers are offering it as a benefit, says Clare Bettelley

Employers may realise dental care is important for employees’ health and wellbeing, but many still do not offer dental benefits in the workplace.

Denplan’s Dental benefits survey 2011 found less than a quarter of respondents offered a dental plan, despite the fact that 85% of these 626 benefits decision-makers believed good dental health supports overall wellbeing.

Similarly, 93% of 1,000 employees polled for research by Cigna HealthCare, which was published in July 2011, said their dental health was important or very important, but 30% had needed to delay or cancel treatment in the past year because of cost.

But change is afoot, with a growing number of employers offering dental benefits. Colin Perry, corporate channel manager at Denplan, says this is a result of employers seeking low-cost ways to beef up their perks.

“Organisations are trying to find ways, without looking at pay, to have something meaningful within their package,” he says.

Employers can typically provide corporate dental plans in the form of insurance schemes or cash plans, which they can fully fund, part-fund or simply provide access to via a voluntary benefits scheme.

For example, Denplan cover for a 50-strong workforce ranges from £7 to £18.95 a month per employee, with plans offered on an employer-funded basis, as a flexible benefit or paid for by employees. Under its elementary cover plan, Denplan will reimburse staff up to 100% of the NHS limit for routine examinations, hygiene treatments, dental x-rays and restorative work. Staff can go to a private dentist for treatment, but maximum cover remains at 100% of the equivalent NHS cost.

Meanwhile, Cigna HealthCare’s standard plan ranges from £3.30 to £19 a month per employee, with cover varying from a maximum of £150 for preventative treatment to £2,000 for major work such as veneers. However, most claims are for standard treatments such as check-ups, scale-and-polish and fillings.

The growing scarcity of NHS dentists and spiralling private treatment costs are expected to boost take-up of dental plans. Damian Lenihan, director, client management and consulting at Bupa, says: “We have experienced a high level of growth with our dental portfolio. Flexible and voluntary [dental] benefits are being offered more often.”

Employers’ ability to share the cost with staff is also persuading them to offer dental perks. Morag Peterson, dental product manager at Cigna HealthCare, says most of its corporate plans are co-insured, with staff reimbursed 80% of treatment costs through an employer-funded insurance-based plan.

HSF’s health cash plan combines dental care with eyecare, with costs ranging from £1 to £12 a week per employee and cover limited to £850 a year. HSF chief executive Stephen Duff says: “More employers want to make a contribution, be it £1 or £3 a week. Then employees can choose whether to upgrade, and at least 50% want to do so.”

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