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16 Apr 2024
by Glenn Thompson

3 ways to promote preventative dental health in the workplace

With the UK facing a dental health crisis, employers can take steps to making employee access to preventative treatment easier

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The UK is grappling with a dentistry crisis with far-reaching implications for both patients and the broader healthcare system.

Rising costs, accessibility issues and the interconnection of oral health with overall wellbeing have brought these challenges to the forefront, prompting insurers and employees alike to seek solutions.

Workplace dental insurance has evolved to cope with these challenges. Today’s offerings now tend to include preventative health services, which have emerged as a crucial component in helping to improve access and promoting overall wellbeing.

A study by Unum UK in 2023 shed light on the severity of the dentistry crisis, with one stark finding indicating that more than one in five (21%) employees avoided dental appointments last year due to the cost-of-living crisis.

This statistic underscores the significant financial barriers for individuals seeking essential dental care, with many forced to forego routine check-ups and treatments because of cost.

As a result, preventive measures are often neglected, leading to a higher likelihood of developing more serious problems in future — and not just isolated to oral health.

Wider health implications

The effect of the dentistry crisis extends beyond financial constraints, encompassing broader health implications that are linked to mental and physical wellbeing.

Research has established connections between oral health and mental health, highlighting how dental issues can exacerbate stress, anxiety and depression.

Moreover, poor oral health has been associated with an increased risk of various conditions, including heart problems, stroke, diabetes, lung/respiratory infections and even low birthweight or premature birth.

Clearly, this highlights the importance of including oral health in a company’s overall health and wellbeing strategy.

The significance of preventative dental care cannot be overstated, particularly in light of its role in reducing the need for more intensive and costly treatments down the line.

Early intervention and proactive maintenance ensure dental issues can be addressed early, mitigating the risk of complications and improving long-term outcomes, ultimately creating and maintaining happy, healthy and productive workforces.

Employers need to take an holistic approach to preventative dental health in the workplace. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Education and awareness

Provide employees with educational resources about the importance of dental health and preventive measures that help maintain good oral hygiene.

Stress the importance of regular dental check-ups and be aware that, although these may need to happen in working hours, flexibility with these visits could cut the risk of dental-related sickness absence later.

2. Make dental health part of overall wellbeing strategy

Help promote habits and activities that feed into healthy dental habits, such as healthy eating challenges or even incentives or rewards for employees to take care of their oral health.

Also, be aware of any food and drink options you provide at work — as they may be heavy on teeth-damaging sugar.

3. Access to dental cover

Consider offering dental insurance as part of a wider employee benefits package – this will provide payment towards preventative services such as dentist check-ups and hygienist appointments as well as more in-depth treatment if required.

In 2023, Unum’s dental claims payments rose by 29% to more than £31 million.

Recognising the need for a digitally enabled, consumer-centric approach to addressing the dentistry crisis and promote preventive oral care, Unum has entered into a partnership aimed at empowering individuals to prioritise their dental health.

Its Toothfairy app serves as a single entry point to dentistry services.

It offers guidance for everyday preventative dental care and routine treatment, providing access to a 1-2-1 dentist helpline, virtual exam and video consultations, emergency appointment finder and everyday discounts and savings.

The dentistry crisis in the UK presents multiple challenges that demand innovative solutions and collaborative efforts from insurers, employers, and healthcare providers.

As the connection between oral health and overall wellbeing becomes increasingly evident, there is a growing imperative to prioritise preventative health services as a strategy for addressing dental issues and promoting holistic wellbeing.

With initiatives like Toothfairy leading the way in corporate dental insurance, there is hope for a brighter future where individuals can access the oral care and support they need.

In partnership with Unum

Putting people at the heart of employee benefits

Contact us today