As employers have learned more about the impact of preventable illness on the cost of employer-sponsored health benefits and overall productivity, they have become increasingly interested in company wellness plans that encourage healthy behaviors, such as losing weight or quitting smoking. The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employers found that 58% of small firms (three to 199 workers) and 85% of large firms (200 or more workers) have some type of wellness program in place.1 Yet wellness plans rarely include preventive dental care. This could be a mistake.
According to a new study from researchers at Marymount University and Virginia Commonwealth University, poor oral health may lead to more work hours lost than many realize. Using data from the 2008 National Health Interview Survey, the team found that of the average 320.8 million work or school hours lost annually for dental care in the United States, more than a quarter (28.8%) is due to unplanned emergency care.2 That works out to 92.4 million hours of lost work or school time.2
Not all unplanned dental visits can be prevented, of course: A dislodged crown or an accident that knocks out a tooth are but two examples. However, other types of unplanned visits — such as for a caries-related toothache — could be avoided with better preventive care. In the study, adults with poor oral health were more likely to lose one or more hours due to unplanned dental visits than those who reported good oral health.2 In addition, subjects in the survey who reported they couldn’t afford dental care lost more work hours to unplanned dental visits than other respondents.2
The National Health Interview Survey data set is broad, and the researchers note that additional studies are needed to drill down into which occupational groups lose the most work hours due to unplanned dental care — and what this mean in terms of lost wages and productivity. If more could be learned about the economic impact of a lack of preventive oral health care, employers and insurers might begin to consider preventive dental care as a key component of effective employer-sponsored wellness programs
- Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey. Available at: kff.org/health-costs/report/2017-employer-health-benefits-survey/. Accessed August 15, 2018.
- Kelekar U, Naavaal S. Hours lost to planned and unplanned dental visits among U.S. adults. Prev Chronic Dis. 2018;15:170225.
From Decisions in Dentistry. September 2018;4(9):46.