Insider Update

Broker blog from Delta Dental

Grin! for Kids: a value-added resource for family dental plans

Educating families about dental care in creative ways raises prospects for buy-in to a Delta Dental plan. The way to engage children in dental care is to give them opportunities to learn about taking care of the teeth, gums and mouth so their smiles are healthy.

Grin! for Kids is a coloring and activity book with fun, educational projects for children in grades K-5. It is a free resource that adds value to a Delta Dental plan. The book can be printed out at home for easy access, as parents show children about preventive care in taking advantage of plan benefits.

Each issue of Grin! for Kids, available in English and Spanish, contains new ideas and information that families can share as they maintain regular visits to their dentist under their plan.

Dental care is an important part of overall health

Dental health is about more than just dental health. As the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America put it: “…oral health is integral to general health. You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities.”

Not surprisingly, then, neglecting dental health can impact more than just teeth and gums. While a common perception is that poor dental health affects only the mouth, it has also been associated with a variety of general health conditions.

While there isn’t conclusive evidence that poor dental health causes these conditions, studies have linked certain dental conditions, such as periodontal gum disease, to stroke and bacterial pneumonia.

The link between poor dental health and heart disease is particularly strong. For instance, a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation suggests that gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack by almost 50%. And in the same issue of the journal, it was reported that there’s increasing evidence for an association between gum and heart disease.

For women who are pregnant, poor oral health may affect not only their health but the health of their babies as well. For instance, a 2016 study found a possible link between gum disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including premature deliveries and babies with low weight at birth.

Oral health issues can also be symptoms of serious health conditions. For example, dry mouth, bad breath, gum disease and new or slow-to-heal dental infections may indicate untreated diabetes. Patches or numbness in the mouth, jaw pain or difficulty chewing may signal oral cancer.

Access to dental care, then, is important not only for maintaining healthy teeth and gums but for maintaining overall wellness and ensuring that no other, more serious health issues are present.

A key to this access is having dental benefits. People who have dental benefits are not only more likely to visit the dentist than people without them, but they’re also more likely take their children to the dentist, according to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) report. The report also notes that these people experience greater overall health than people without dental insurance.

The cost of skipping this care is significant. Each dollar spent on preventive dental care can save as much as $50 later on costly restorative treatments, such as fillings and crowns. And each year, $45 billion is lost in productivity due to dental disease, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So when discussing dental health, remember — it’s about much more than dental health.

Grin! offers clients and their employees a free and fun wellness resource

Encourage your clients to brighten their smiles — and their days — with Delta Dental’s fun, informative and free e-magazine: Grin!

Available in English and Spanish, this quarterly publication is full of useful and entertaining content, such as:

  • The latest news on dental care — including what to do during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Advice from experts
  • First looks at innovative technology
  • Fun features
  • Healthy recipes, and more

And because dental health is strongly tied to overall health, Grin! also explores how many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and depression, are related to dental care. In fact, Grin! explains how allergies and oral health are related in the recent summer issue.

See for yourself: Check out the latest edition of Grin! here. And it’s easy to subscribe. With just one click, your clients and their employees can receive all that Grin! has to offer, four times per year.

Healthy, happy employees are the key to a productive workplace, and Grin! can help. Why not offer it your clients today?

And if they do choose to subscribe to Grin!, be sure to remind them to download this free poster that they can use to promote this great resource to their employees.

Policy pops: How does dental fit into the gig economy?

3-minute read

Join our guest blogger, Devin McBrayer, as she explores the role of dental benefits in the fast-growing gig economy. Devin is a Legislative and Policy Analyst based in Sacramento, California.

The large majority of Americans have dental benefits — 77% in fact, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. Most Americans receive this coverage through their employer or groups like AARP. However, the job market is changing. Each year, more Americans are leaving traditional workplaces to join the gig economy and be their own boss. This shift could change the landscape of the benefits industry in the very near future.

Who’s in the gig economy?
Nearly one quarter of Americans earn some or all of their income in the gig economy, Edison Research estimates. Not surprisingly, a 2019 survey by Bankrate shows that almost half of Millennial workers work in the gig economy in some capacity. While that’s more than any other generation, a 2018 Prudential study notes that Gen X-ers work the most hours per week in their gig jobs of any generation and are also more likely to rely exclusively on gig work for income. Baby boomers tend to use gig work to make extra money in retirement.

Do gig jobs offer dental benefits?
The increasing number of Americans working odd jobs for TaskRabbit or driving for Uber may not receive traditional employee benefits, including dental coverage. That can cause anxiety, when an estimated 44% of American gig workers rely on the gig economy as the sole source of their income. Gig workers might be able to afford to purchase individual dental coverage directly from a carrier or through their state’s exchange, but for some, that coverage might be more than they can afford. A 2017 study by Freelancers Union & Upwork found that over half of freelancers dipped into their savings each month to make ends meet.

On the other end of the spectrum, the gig economy workers using their gig to supplement their income from a more traditional employer may already have dental benefits from their primary job. If not, they may actually use the extra cash to purchase individual coverage.

What does the trend mean for benefits brokers?
Gig workers, especially those who have never had access to employer-sponsored benefits, may need education about the value of dental coverage. Adults with dental benefits are more likely to visit the dentist and seek preventive care, according to the 2017 Delta Dental Plans Association, Adult Oral Health and Well-being Survey. Routine dental exams can detect health problems early and lower the risk for costly conditions down the road like crowns, implants or even oral cancers.

The rise of the gig economy could also change the way that dental benefits are sold to this population. For workers in the gig economy exclusively, individual dental plans with competitive coverage and pricing will become increasingly important. Many gig workers use apps like Lyft and Postmates to earn money, which may signal that they’re more likely to purchase insurance online and look for plans geared toward tech-savvy consumers.

For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

If you’re a benefits decision maker, administrator or HR professional, subscribe to our group newsletter, Word of Mouth.

Policy pops: Health care exchanges — 2019 enrollment results

3-minute read

Join our guest blogger, Devin McBrayer, as she reviews the outcomes of the 2019 open enrollment period for health care exchanges. Devin is a Legislative and Policy Analyst based in Sacramento, California.

The open enrollment period to purchase Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant individual health insurance coverage off the health insurance exchanges for 2019 has come to an end. Sign-ups were off to a slow start at the beginning of the enrollment period, leaving many experts fearful that ACA plans would experience a significant decrease in enrollment. However, total enrollment only decreased by about 3.8% nationwide on Healthcare.gov, much of this due to a 15% reduction in new sign-ups.

While the total enrollment drop in individual health insurance plans on the exchange may have been less drastic than expected, it is still worth exploring why new enrollment decreased considerably and why year-to-year enrollment continues to decline. Several 2018 policy changes, combined with a growing economy, could help explain the decrease in enrollment in ACA plans for the 2019 plan year.

Are policy changes to blame?
In 2018, Congress reduced the tax penalty for not having an ACA-compliant health insurance plan to zero, effectively eliminating it. The federal government also shortened the open enrollment period and reduced marketing for open enrollment. Simultaneously, the federal government passed several rules that expanded the availability of cheaper and less comprehensive insurance plans such as short-term limited duration plans. No tax penalty for lack of coverage, combined with a shorter sign-up period and more plan options outside the exchanges, may help explain the enrollment decrease.

The impact of the economy
Another possible explanation for the drop in enrollment could be attributed to an improving economy. When open enrollment started on November 1, 2018, there were two million more jobs added to the economy than were added at the same time in 2017. As more people head back to work, it’s possible that they’re gaining access to employer-sponsored health insurance, eliminating the need to renew their ACA plan.

What does this mean for dental?
Any loss in enrollment for medical coverage also means less people enrolled in dental coverage on the exchange. (As a reminder, dental coverage is an essential health benefit for children but not for adults.)

In the exchanges, dental coverage is included in some health plans or consumers can get a stand-alone dental plan and pay a separate premium. However, there is no way for consumers to purchase a stand-alone dental plan without also purchasing a medical plan on the health care exchange. Pushing for states and the federal government to allow for the independent purchase of stand-alone dental plans on state and federal health insurance exchanges is a top priority for the Public & Government Affairs team at Delta Dental.

For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

If you’re a benefits decision maker, administrator or HR professional, subscribe to our group newsletter, Word of Mouth.

Bacteria on the brain? Exploring the Alzheimer’s-oral health connection

By now, you’ve probably seen the recent headlines highlighting a possible link between Alzheimer’s disease and poor oral health. You may be getting questions from clients, or even thinking about how this information could impact your own family.

Alzheimer’s affects nearly five million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. — so it’s no wonder that the potential dental connection is raising concerns. However, before your groups start panicking, and feverishly reaching for their toothbrushes, it’s important to set a few things straight about the research.

New evidence, but not a new idea
The potential link between Alzheimer’s and poor oral health is not a new discovery. In 2008, periodontal (gum) disease was already identified as a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Since then, the body of evidence supporting the link has only grown. A group of researchers identified P. gingivalis as the specific kind of oral bacteria associated with Alzheimer’s in 2013. Subsequent studies have found that this same type of bacteria, often the culprit for gum disease, can transfer from the mouth to the brain in mice. Once P. gingivalis enters the brain, it can create the characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The latest study making waves further explores the role of P. gingivalis in the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. Researchers looked at brain tissue, saliva and spinal fluid from Alzheimer’s patients, and not only found evidence of P. gingivalis, but they also discovered the presence of a toxic enzyme created by P. gingivalis in 96% of the brain tissue samples examined. Once in the brain, this toxic enzyme can destroy brain neurons, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s.

Association does not necessarily mean causation 
While the new study adds to the evidence that gum disease is associated with Alzheimer’s risk, not everyone who has Alzheimer’s has gum disease, and not everyone who has gum disease has Alzheimer’s. Additional research is needed to understand if and how a cause and effect relationship exists. While more needs to be learned, it’s still important to encourage groups to prevent and manage gum disease, especially in older adults or individuals who have increased risk for dementia.

Oral health is just one piece of the puzzle
Alzheimer’s is linked to a host of risk factors, not just poor oral health. Genetics, heart health, diabetes, hypertension, exercise and diet may also play a role, just to name a few. Here’s the good news — by encouraging groups to prioritize oral health, you may also be helping improve their overall health! Send groups to our SmileWay® Wellness site for resources to protect their smiles and well-being for years to come.

For more thought leadership from Delta Dental, subscribe to Insider Update, our newsletter for brokers, agents and consultants.

If you’re a benefits decision maker, administrator or HR professional, subscribe to our group newsletter, Word of Mouth.

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