Dental health benefits are growing in importance for both employers and employees and a wide range of schemes are available
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- Health cash plans and dental insurance will cover treatment by both NHS and private dentists up to an agreed limit.
- The treatments covered by dental plans have expanded to include dental accidents and dental cancers.
- The cost of private dental treatment can vary throughout the country and from practice to practice.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been working hard to help people understand more about their rights when visiting a dentist. The government department kicked off its latest initiative in May 2012 by publishing a report, Dentistry, An OFT Market Study, and a supporting campaign calling for greater choice of dentists and dental treatments for patients.
So how can employers help to optimise employees’ oral health?
It is important for employees to understand the terms of their benefits, such as the fact that a dental payment plan will give them freedom of choice to source treatment.
Allow employees to choose
Colin Perry, corporate channel manager at Denplan, says: “The payment plans we give employers allow employees to choose whether they want to see an NHS dentist or go down the private route. Private dentistry can be more expensive, but staff have more choice in terms of the types of treatment.”
Dental benefits have historically been used to cover day-to-day dental care, such as check-ups and fillings, but providers’ services are expanding.
Sue Weir, chief executive at Medicash, says: “We now cover dental accident and dental cancers, so that is broadening out what we offer. This has come from seeing what is out there and appreciating that it is dental accidents that will make people absent from work.”
Perry adds: “There is more preventative work being done than in the past, so, for example, more people are going to see the hygienist on a regular basis, rather than years ago when they just turned up when they were in pain.”
Regular dental check-ups are also essential for staff, not least because these can often detect chronic health conditions. Paul Shires, executive director at Westfield Health, says: “We know now that conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can be picked up by the dentist. It’s not just those typical problems of toothache and abscesses; it can be more serious health conditions. Prevention is definitely better than cure and having a dental benefit is very important.”
Irrespective of how dental benefits are funded, be it by an employer or employee, staff should always be made aware of exactly what they are paying for. The OFT aims to address this issue with its 2012 report and campaign by ensuring people are given clear and accurate data about dental pricing and treatments.
Michelle Rae, dental product manager at Cigna HealthCare, says: “Most dental plans pay 100% of NHS dental treatment costs, and then, if it’s a private treatment, it will vary from plan to plan, so employees have to check what they are covered for. The OFT report is a good basis for employee understanding.”
Prices can vary
Of course, dental treatment and prices can vary among private practices, as well as across the NHS, depending on a dentist’s location.
Denplan’s Perry adds: “There are differences throughout the country in terms of the cost of dentistry. There are regional differences, but also locally there are differences.”
So, employers that are committed to providing their workforce with appropriate policies to cover dental healthcare should work with their provider to ensure they receive plans offering reimbursement levels appropriate for the cost of dentistry in their location.
But ultimately, access to dental healthcare benefits is key, as it is with all health perks. Paul Moulton, intermediary distribution director at Axa PPP Healthcare, says there is a general recognition that employers need to have a broader approach to presenteeism and absence and, therefore, staff access to care.
Tim Adlem, a director at Jelf Employee Benefits, adds: “If an employer can encourage staff to routinely have check-ups, hopefully that will mean better dental health and less time off work.”
CASE STUDY: JP Morgan banks on good dental health for staff
JP Morgan introduced a dental healthcare plan for its workforce on a voluntary discount basis, through Denplan, in 2005.
In 2007, the dental plan became part of the bank’s new flexible benefits scheme.
The employee-funded plan offers five levels of cover and is available to all 13,500 of the organisation’s UK staff.
Adam Brooke, employee benefits manager (UK) at JP Morgan, says: “We wanted choice within the offering, just as we offer with our other benefits. As part of that choice, we have everything from just an emergency offering all the way through to NHS-only cover, and up to fully inclusive private dentistry.
“It is really important. We have got a wide range of products to give employees choice over what they take. That is not just in benefits, but also in the way they look at their own health.
“We try to provide a wide range of offerings and programmes that [employees] can engage with where they see fit.”
Take-up of the plan across all employee levels has reached almost 28%. “It is a really popular benefit and one that almost runs itself,” adds Brooke.
VIEWPOINT: Doctor Nigel Carter, chief executive, British Dental Health Foundation
A survey published in May 2012 by the British Dental Health Foundation discovered that only 57% of employers allow their employees to take paid time off to visit the dentist. The same survey showed 93% of employers do not give staff occupational health information on the importance of maintaining good oral health.
We would encourage employers to review their current occupational health and general welfare policies regarding employees taking time off to visit the dentist. In the last five years, the foundation estimates that two million people have taken time off work because of poor oral health. Sick days cost the economy about £32 billion, which can be cut if employers work with their workforce to help reduce the time lost through dental problems.
First, employers can encourage dental attendance, perhaps by having an arrangement with a local dental practice if staff do not have their own dentist. It will also be useful to allow staff paid absence to visit the dentist. Providing dental benefits to staff would also be a good idea.
Second, employers should review the food and drinks on offer in their staff canteen and vending machines. Are there healthy alternatives available? Encourage healthy snacking by providing fruit.
There are added benefits of staff having at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, not only for better oral health, but also for general health and less incidence of disease, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Employers can help promote good health through a healthy food initiative designed with oral health in mind, and consider using display flyers and information about the potential dangers of desk grazing.
An example of what working together can achieve is the regional award scheme, North East Better Health at Work Award. Developed in 2009 to give recognition to workplaces in the north-east region of England which actively promote workplace health, it is a great example of how employers can explore partnerships with local businesses to promote good oral health practices.