Dental benefits should not be overlooked in an absence management strategy. In some cases, they can have a significant effect on the amount of time an employee is away from work.
An employer can offer dental cover via a health cash plan or dental insurance. Helping staff to maintain a good oral health routine may lessen the likelihood of them needing emergency treatment and taking extra time off work.
Roger Matthews, chief dental officer at Denplan, says: “There is a recordable loss from sickness when employees have to have emergency appointments.”
Employers can also use general health and wellbeing communications to encourage staff to have regular dental appointments, or promote dental health at events such as benefits fairs.
Paul Shires, executive director at Westfield Health, says: “Employees and people in general delay dental treatment, which means more time is spent out of the office when conditions worsen.”
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), adds: “Toothache, dental abscesses and missing teeth are reasons why employees take time off work. If employers educate staff on how to maintain a good oral hygiene routine, there is no reason for these problems to develop.”
Something many employees may not realise is the link between poor oral health and the development of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Dental experts also say there is a link between poor oral health and dementia, heart attacks and strokes. Carter says: “Improving healthcare can cut down on some of the links between poor oral health and life-threatening diseases. These are all conditions that could result in considerable time off work.”
The BDHF estimates that UK businesses lost £36.6 million in 2012 due to employees taking time off work because of dental problems. “The key thing to know is that prevention is better than cure,” says Westfield Health’s Shires.
Prevent oral ill-health
To help prevent dental problems, employers could offer staff paid time off to attend appointments, bring dentists on site or offer a dental benefits scheme that covers employees for treatment at dental practices close to their workplace, which will minimise the time it takes to attend appointments.
“Dentists have a powerful role to play in lessening employees’ time away from the office,” says Denplan’s Matthews. “If dentists can help spot and thwart diseases, they can prevent emergencies from happening.”
Other elements of an employer’s health and wellbeing strategy could also affect employees’ dental health. For example, employers could consider reviewing the food and drinks available on site, whether these are provided free or through an on-site restaurant.
The BDHF’s Carter adds: “We are a nation of snackers. Employers can discourage snacking on sugary goods and drinks and even review the food on offer in the canteen and vending machines. There could be healthier alternatives.”
Running such initiatives alongside an organisation’s dental benefits could help to reduce employee absence.
When considering dental benefits, employers should bear in mind that providing these perks could make the difference between staff seeking treatment or not, either routinely or as an emergency.
Research published by the BDHF to coincide with National Smile Month in May 2013 found that 19% of respondents delayed dental treatment because of cost. The research also found that 88% of adults do not have dental insurance and 63% use the NHS.
Shires says: “People are used to paying for dental treatment and regular appointments can soon stack up. Some people think the cost of treatment on the NHS is too much, which means they are likely to forgo treatment.
“Employees now expect their employers to pay for schemes or share the responsibility.”
So, if used properly by employees and communicated well by employers, dental benefits can have a real impact on staff health and time away from work. As Denplan’s Matthews says: “Dental benefits will help employees because they will be less likely to suffer from dental emergencies, and less likely to develop further conditions that could give rise to long-term sickness absence.”