Broker blog from Delta Dental

Tag: wellness

Pediatric dentistry trends in 2021: How COVID-19 has affected children’s oral health

From work to school to every errand in between, the pandemic has affected just about every aspect of daily life, and as we’ve heard over and over again, children are struggling to keep up. As NBC News reports, grades are slipping and absenteeism is soaring. Sadly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, that absenteeism has also surfaced in other cornerstones of child development, including basic health care checkups.

Dropping numbers

Pediatric dental services were down 69% between March and May of 2020 year over year, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. During this time, of course, many practices had temporarily closed their doors. The numbers began to bounce back in May but are still lower than average. Delta Dental of California and its affiliates saw nearly a 10% drop in enrollees between the ages of 3 and 18 receiving exams or dental service from 2019 to 2020.

So, why the low turnout? A few reasons:

  • Apprehensions due to the pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious answer here, but a significant factor, nonetheless. Despite the many precautions taken by health professionals, some parents are still uncomfortable leaving their bubbles just yet. A majority of Americans spent the 2020 portion of the pandemic fearful of contracting the virus, according to a YouGov study. For at-risk parents with few other options, skipping out on these errands can be their only choice.
  • Limited options. With months of closures and capacities limited, simply securing an appointment can be difficult, never mind one at a convenient time. Balancing a home that is suddenly now an office and a school can leave few options for exhausted parents to get their children in the dentist’s chair. Additionally, needed care that might’ve been detected in a school clinic setting may go unnoticed with so many schools still closed. Medicaid beneficiaries are even more likely to struggle with these limitations, according to a poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.
  • Low priority. While small dental procedures are sometimes seen as easy to put off for children who still have baby teeth, there can be long-term effects. Left untreated, cavities can turn to abscesses or hinder the growth of healthy adult teeth.
  • Socioeconomic status. Perhaps the most concerning trend, however, is that of the deepening inequities in health care. The number of children without insurance hit a historic high in 2016 – well before the pandemic hit – and has continued to rise steadily since then, according to a study by Georgetown University. The pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated these issues.

Health care and wealth gaps

As the wealth and health care gap widens due to the pandemic, so do the many ways that such disparities trickle down to the nation’s children. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, some of the biggest setbacks include:

  • Food deserts. Lack of healthy food options disproportionately affects low-income communities and nearly half of all students rely on free or reduced-price lunches. With schools closed, many families are forced to choose cheap and unhealthy options
  • Unprecedented job loss. With unemployment on the rise, so is lack of insurance or gaps in coverage. For unemployed or underemployed parents, losing employer sponsored coverage can mean unaffordable out-of-pocket costs for themselves and their children. Roughly 6.3% of the U.S. population remains unemployed, as reported in February 2021 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Vicious cycle. A 2020 study by the Journal of Dental Research indicated that nearly half of the people who lost dental insurance during the pandemic will likely remain uninsured. This number is estimated to be even higher in states without Medicaid expansion.

Delta Dental and pediatric care

Delta Dental has been making strides to improve health and give back to our young and at-risk neighbors. In 2019, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation provided nearly $20 million in funding to community organizations ranging from health centers to food banks. Many of the grant recipients are focused on pediatric health, including the Children’s Medical Center Foundation in Dallas, Texas, Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida in Ft Myers, Florida and Healthy Smiles for Kids (HSK) of Orange County, California.

In 2019, the Foundation funded a program through HSK called Prevention, Outreach, Education and Teledentistry (POET), which helps kids receive a comprehensive six-month dental check-up at their school, pediatric office or community sites. With this funding, the program was able to care for more than 25,000 underserved children.

Additionally, Delta Dental launched new teledentistry options this year, including an app called Toothpic. The program is intended to help patients, especially those struggling to make appointments, such as busy parents, get advice from a licensed dentist without leaving home or having to make a real-time appointment. With Toothpic, users simply answer a few questions and snap a photo of problem area. Within 24 hours, they’ll receive custom advice that includes options, costs and information on where they can find a Delta Dental dentist.

What’s next

The good news is that unemployment numbers are gradually dropping while COVID-19 vaccinations steadily rise. While this past year’s statistics may feel somber, they don’t have to be the final word. Affordable health care options like Medicaid’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit for children, are more important than ever, as is education about the importance of dental health.

Common questions clients may have about the COVID-19 vaccine

As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more accessible throughout the country, you may find more of your clients and their employees talking about it and asking questions. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conflicting and inaccurate information being spread through various media channels. Staying on top of the truth can be a full-time job, but here’s a list of common questions and some points you can bring up in case you hear concerns about the vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. Multiple expert sources, such as the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have attested to the vaccines’ safety. There are multiple reasons given why someone might be concerned about the vaccine’s safety, but the most common include:

  • Concerns about catching COVID-19 from a vaccine shot. There is no live virus used in the vaccines, so people who receive them can’t contract COVID-19.
  • Concerns about the vaccine damaging cells’ DNA. mRNA vaccines don’t alter cell DNA. Instead, they teach cells how to make a protein, which generates a response that will help the immune system target identical proteins in the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • Concerns about the vaccines being developed recklessly or too quickly. The vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands of patients. Pfizer and Moderna have published ingredient lists for their vaccines, and the mRNA technology used to make the vaccines has been in development for over 30 years.

I’ve heard reports of people having aches, chills and other symptoms after getting vaccinated. Is this an issue?

No. Some people who have gotten the vaccine have reported muscle pain, chills and headaches, but that is not unusual for vaccines. These are part of the body’s normal immune response. But those who have had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past (which are due to the ingredients used in the vaccines), should first consult with their health care providers.

Should I still get a vaccine if I’ve had COVID-19 previously?

Yes. It’s not clear if having contracted COVID-19 previously grants long-term resistance and immunity, like having contracted chicken pox does. Even for those who have been infected previously, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated.

COVID-19 doesn’t seem that deadly. Should I get a vaccine if I’m not in a high-risk category?

Yes. It’s true that as a percentage, most people who contract COVID-19 don’t die from it. Still, there can be serious long-term consequences such as lung, heart or brain damage. And even someone who doesn’t get seriously ill can still spread the disease among others who are more vulnerable. Getting a vaccine helps us protect not just our families and loved ones, but also society as a whole.

Once I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask or socially distance?

Yes. Even if a person has been vaccinated, that doesn’t mean that he or she can’t still spread the virus. It takes at least 10 days for the body to develop antibodies to the virus, and the number of antibodies present only goes up with more time. Additionally, research hasn’t conclusively determined if the vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection and spread (although it is likely that they do). Wearing a mask and socially distancing are also good behaviors to model for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet. By getting vaccinated and following other preventive measures, we can all do our part to end the pandemic sooner!

I’ve heard that the vaccine contains a chip inside that lets the government and corporations track people who get vaccinated. Is this true?

No. Some syringe makers include a microchip within the labels of their products so that health care providers can track the shipping history and origin of doses of vaccine. There is no chip within the vaccine itself.

I heard that the vaccine targets a protein that occurs naturally in pregnant women and can cause fertility issues. Is this true?

No. An amino acid sequence is shared between COVID-19 and a placental protein found in pregnant women, but the sequence is too short to trigger an immune response by itself. COVID-19 vaccines won’t cause fertility issues in women.

Why companies need ancillary benefits

Dentist documents findings during an exam with patient.

By offering companies a way to enhance their employee benefit package, you are providing them a marketplace advantage for retaining a motivated, healthy workforce.

Nearly 60% of responding hiring managers, human resources professionals and workers identified better benefits as a key strategy to strengthen connections with employees and reduce turnover, according to a 2018 Career Builder survey. To achieve this goal, companies are looking to add ancillary benefits.

What are ancillary benefits?

An ancillary benefit covers a specific need not addressed by the group medical insurance plan. Dental, vision, life, disability and even pet insurance are complementary products that can be integrated into company benefit packages.

This is how companies can strengthen connections with their employees. Ancillary benefits deliver value through access to health care plans and financial solutions that enhance total wellness, lower out-of-pocket expenses and give peace of mind.

What is the value of an ancillary benefit?

Through ancillary benefits, companies show that their priorities match employees’ priorities. According to an American Dental Association survey, 30% of young adults have tooth decay, 35% reported difficulty biting or chewing and feeling embarrassment at the condition of their teeth and 59% of respondents reported cost as the top reason for not visiting the dentist. 

Companies saved $5.8 billion over four years by offering stand-along vision plans, according to a study by the HCMS Group. Widespread computer use can lead to digital eye strain, and plans generally include coverage for a comprehensive eye exam, contact lenses or glasses, and allowances for LASIK or PRK refractive surgery.

Although 75% of millennials don’t carry life insurance, this benefit becomes more important to them in later stages of their careers. The average worker has a 30% chance of becoming disabled, so a short-term or long-term insurance plan provides backup. Millennials make up 35% of all pet owners, and a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management revealed that 11% of U.S. employers offered pet insurance, up from 6% in 2014, and one in three Fortune 500 companies offered it.

Companies can use surveys to find out what employees are seeking, and then shape ancillary benefit options accordingly. You can help employers achieve their strategic goal by providing what their employees want.

Why should companies offer ancillary benefits?

As an ancillary benefit, a dental insurance plan, for example, includes diagnostic and preventive services that go beyond maintaining employees’ oral health. Dentists not only evaluate periodontal disease but also diagnose symptoms of major health issues, such as diabetes, during routine exams. Early detection enables employees to seek treatment that may avoid more expensive interventions. It can help your company control long-term health care costs and provide financial stability for employees.

In a vision insurance plan, an annual eye exam can reveal symptoms of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood sugar or high cholesterol.

When you show the return on investment in an ancillary benefit to a company, through cost of premiums versus cost of claims, it can support the case for adding it for employees. You can offer a Delta Dental plan that easily complements, and integrates with, an existing group medical plan. This ancillary benefit can increase both workers’ job satisfaction and wellness.

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