Inadequate dental coverage costs Americans greatly

Richard Beckman

As presidential candidates emerge from the woodwork and debate season kicks into high gear, Americans are sure to be barraged with much discussion surrounding the Affordable Care Act and medical insurance coverage for employers. An important facet of the conversation that’s likely to be left out is the importance of employer-funded dental insurance.

The U.S. Office of the Surgeon General reports that employed adults in our country lose more than 164 million hours of work each year to dental disease or dental visits. The same report found that for every adult 19 years or older without medical insurance, there are three without dental insurance — a trend that undoubtedly leads to the high volume of hours lost to dental diseases.

As with many health issues, prevention of dental disease through regular checkups is a simple measure that can curb the trend, increasing productivity and allowing employees more time at the office. Employees are far more likely to keep up with their appointments if the visits are covered by their employer’s health plan. In fact, a survey from The Long Group Retail Dental Insurance showed that more than 80 percent of people with dental benefits routinely go to the dentist at least twice a year, while only 34 percent of those without those benefits do the same.

Other options for coverage are limited — public programs providing dental care for adults are minimal, and leave many severely lacking in basic service options. While the Affordable Care Act included a mandate that children receive dental services, adult services were not included.

The implications for adults without dental insurance can be severe, even beyond engagement and attendance in the workplace. Many systemic diseases can be identified through oral exams, including diabetes, leukemia, cancer, heart disease and kidney disease. The signs and symptoms of these diseases can be easily missed without routine dental examinations.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, approximately 108 million people in the U.S. have no dental insurance. While dental emergencies don’t get the same amount of media attention as traditional medical issues, anyone who has experienced a pain with their teeth, mouth or gums knows the situation is serious and requires immediate attention. Additionally, such issues rarely get better without treatment and can be an indicator that disease is elsewhere in the body.

To ensure the overall health and well-being of employees, and to prevent the millions of hours of missed work that stems from dental disease, offering comprehensive dental insurance to adults and children alike should be a part of the national discussion regarding healthcare. Our hope is that one, if not more, of the candidates will include this issue among the many other critical areas of focus they cover leading up to Election Day 2016.

Encouraging employees to get regular dental checkups and providing dental service coverage is a smart move for the longevity of employers and employees alike.

Richard Beckman is chief executive officer of Great Expressions Dental Centers. Dr. Robert Brody is chief clinical officer of Great Expressions Dental Centers.