Health+Benefits the June 2024 issue

The Mouth Is the Gateway to the Body

Q&A with Sarah Chavarria, CEO and President, Delta Dental of California and Affiliates
Sponsored by Delta Dental of California and Affiliates Posted on May 26, 2024

In this Q&A, Sarah Chavarria, CEO and president of insurer Delta Dental of California and Affiliates, discusses how crucial maintaining oral health is to a person’s overall well-being. Oral wellness is often inextricably linked to major health outcomes, Chavarria says, so employers should treat it like a traditional, expected benefit.

We’re in the era of the multigenerational workforce. Does that make it more important to include a dental benefit in an employee benefits package?

We have five generations in the workforce right now, which is unprecedented. This requires employers to take into consideration the life experiences, the expectations, and the relationship that these generations have with healthcare and overall health.

As employers, we prioritize engaging our workforce and ensuring the health and well-being of our employees and their families. Recognizing that oral health is a cornerstone of overall wellness, integrating dental benefits into health offerings is essential. Whether it’s a young Gen Z employee or a seasoned professional, good oral health is crucial for overall well-being.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a healthy smile, oral health screenings can be an early warning system for serious health issues. We surveyed older Americans and found that three in five were unaware that gum swelling can be linked to diabetes, heart disease, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Have employee expectations changed regarding dental benefits since the pandemic?

Employee expectations regarding oral health benefits have evolved since the onset of the pandemic. With a heightened awareness of health and well-being, most employees now expect comprehensive dental coverage as an essential part of the overall benefits package they receive. The pandemic underscored the importance of preventive care and access to dental services, leading employees to seek benefits that include coverage for routine checkups, cleanings, and potentially even teledentistry options for remote consultations.

Overall, the pandemic has prompted a reevaluation of dental benefits, with employees placing greater emphasis on comprehensive coverage and convenient access to care.

Our survey showed that 84% of women 50 and older didn’t know that menopause impacts their oral health.
How does a dental health benefit compare with traditional benefits like health insurance in terms of cost, value, or other factors?

Oral health is a critical component of a comprehensive benefits package and should be viewed as a traditional offering. Preventive oral healthcare is significantly less expensive than treating neglected oral health problems. Regular checkups can identify and address issues early, preventing more costly procedures.

Poor oral health can lead to pain and missed workdays, as well as serious health complications that can contribute to significant medical conditions. By providing dental benefits, companies invest in the overall health and productivity of their employees, potentially reducing absenteeism and increasing work efficiency.

Your recent research highlighted the connection between oral health and menopause. What do women need to know about their oral health during this life stage?

Our survey showed that 84% of women 50 and older didn’t know that menopause impacts their oral health. Despite that, over 70% of these women experienced symptoms like dry mouth, bleeding gums, tooth sensitivity, and receding gum lines. Layer on that only 2% of women said they talked to their dentist about these symptoms and only 1% with their hygienist.

The menopausal connection makes oral health a concern for a significant portion of the workforce (around 25%). This is a crucial missed opportunity for women to have oral health screenings as a part of their overall preventive care to help address concerns early and prevent more serious issues down the line.

What should brokers prioritize when they’re building a dental solution?

Brokers play a vital role in the healthcare ecosystem by connecting us and our clients. The broker perspective is important as we strive to better understand the needs of our customers, to meet their health goals, and to improve health by providing access to quality care. Brokers also act as a partner in stressing the important role preventive dental care can play in overall health.

Equally important is the quality of the benefits included in the plan. This involves looking at the comprehensiveness of the coverage, including preventive care options, and the cost-effectiveness of the plans available. It’s essential that the benefits align with client needs and expectations, offering them a clear reason to choose the plan over others.

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