Nigel Carter: Employees must see the dentist

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.

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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.

Doctor Nigel Carter is chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation