Why preventative oral care is more than just ‘benefit’

Even before the pandemic, employers understood the importance of ensuring a healthy employee base and the direct correlation to productivity. While health care benefits packages — including vision and dental benefits — always were a strategic component of employee recruitment, the C-suite also has realized the critical role those benefits play in maintaining a healthy workforce.

Yet, the true benefit has been the preventive aspects of such health care programs. It’s no surprise that access to care increases the likelihood that individuals will utilize that care, so the coverage afforded through health plans encourages more proactive wellness. This allows for earlier detection of diseases and potential illnesses before they become critical health concerns.

What may be less known is the vital role that oral health plays in that preventive care.  According to Delta Dental of New Jersey and Connecticut, research has shown that there is a direct correlation between oral health and overall health. Poor oral health can lead to poor overall health, but it also is true that poor oral health can be an indication that individuals are at risk of or already suffer from other major diseases. 

Preventive oral care — from simple checkups and exams by your dentist, to regular treatments to support healthier gums — is a critical part of maintaining strong oral health, but it also is important to your overall health. Poor oral health has a correlation to such health care concerns as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s.

More and more reports during the past five years have underscored that correlation. In fact, four years ago this month, Healthy People 2030, the federal government’s prevention agenda for building a healthier nation, identified oral health as one of the 10 leading health indicators.

These studies underscore a fact that we’ve experienced firsthand in New Jersey for more than 50 years — that oral health and overall physical health are inextricably linked. Oral health care is a critical component to overall wellness — and this especially is true for at-risk populations.

The good news is that individuals are recognizing this correlation and increasingly accessing preventive dental care. In a study circulated by DDNJCT last year, the report found that adults and parents are making oral health care a priority, with more children and adults visiting their dentist for preventive care in 2022 than the year before. 

According to the Delta Dental Plans Association 2022 State of America’s Oral Health and Wellness Report, adults also are following recommended preventive oral care at home — brushing their teeth twice a day, flossing and using mouthwash once a day, on average.  In fact, more than half (55%) follow the American Dental Association guidelines on how often to replace toothbrushes, while a vast majority of parents (93%) do the same for their children.

Nearly 1 in 2 adults (49%) use fluoride products, and approximately 4 in 5 parents (79%) believe fluoride is very, if not extremely, important to their child’s oral health and prevents cavities. To improve their smiles, 20% of adults use whitening products, 15% use a tongue scraper and 10% use either a mouthguard or night guard.

The results of this study are very encouraging. In addition to proactively seeking professional preventive care from their dentist, research illustrates that adults and parents increasingly are doing their own part through diligent at-home care by brushing and flossing.

Those with access to further preventive care through their dental benefits programs should take advantage of those offerings. Routine professional care and guidance is critical.

A number of oral health services typically fall under the preventive dentistry umbrella, including diagnostic services utilized to catch signs of oral problems early (checkups, X-rays), professional cleanings, fluoride treatments and even sealants.

Dennis Wilson is CEO and president of Delta Dental of New Jersey and Connecticut.