Dental Wellness Programs: Creating Optimum Dental Health That Impacts Overall Health Care Savings

November 8, 2013

There’s no way around it – periodontal disease has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  Nearly 47 percent of all Americans will deal with some form of it at least once in their life.[1]  Compare that number to the percentage of Americans who currently smoke (19%)[2].  If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, proper oral hygiene is a comparative walk in the park.

There’s no way around it – periodontal disease has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  Nearly 47 percent of all Americans will deal with some form of it at least once in their life.[1]  Compare that number to the percentage of Americans who currently smoke (19%)[2].  If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking, proper oral hygiene is a comparative walk in the park.

Now, add in chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, which touch an estimated one out of every two adults in this country.  It stands to reason that right now, millions of Americans are living with both a chronic disease and periodontal disease. 

However, there is good news:  New data shows that regular dental care not only improves overall health, but also reduces medical costs.  And while the speculation around what Obamacare will mean for the U.S. health system continues to swirl, the one basic tenet of health care has remained unchanged for centuries:  An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.  This applies to improving health, improving wellness and reducing healthcare costs with oral care as well.

A landmark, three-year oral health study shows that proper dental care can have roughly the same impact as smoking cessation, in terms of return on investment (ROI).  Compared to smoking cessation wellness programs, a dental wellness program can also change people’s behavior in terms of proper oral hygiene.  Such an addition can help more people, would cost less, and boast a comparable ROI.

This recent study was sponsored by United Concordia and parent company Highmark, Inc.  The accompanying infographic shows the amount of annual health care cost savings possible when an individual with diabetes, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), or rheumatoid arthritis, or who is pregnant, is treated for gum disease.

Also, when someone with diabetes receives at least seven treatments for gum disease, annual savings for that individual increase by $1,477 due to declining drug costs. Total annual savings can exceed $3,000. 

Other studies show that simple oral health wellness results in medical savings for individuals with heart disease and stroke, plus rheumatoid arthritis, and for pregnant women.  But unlike the physical cravings that often accompany a smoker’s attempt to quit, no one is addicted to periodontal disease.  It’s a matter of brushing and flossing, with regular trips to the dentist.  It’s a matter of proper diet that promotes healthy teeth and gums.

These exciting findings are the reason why United Concordia has rolled out a first-of-its kind dental wellness product, a simple addition to existing plans that provides education and enhanced dental benefits that put this research into action.

This product, now named UCWellnessSM and soon to be part of the Smile for Health® product family, includes education, focused outreach and thoughtful plan design, using a model similar to other wellness programs to deliver lower costs of care through prevention of disease, increased productivity and reduced work absenteeism.

For example, we have learned that although high numbers of Americans currently have some form of periodontal disease, nearly 79% of Americans believe they don’t have any form of gum disease[3].  That’s a very big knowledge gap.  The reason for that gap is because the symptoms of periodontitis often do not lead to pain.  So when people ignore those symptoms “because nothing hurts,” they are not getting the proper care.  This is just one example of the type of educational programs that such a wellness product can provide to employees across the United States.

UCWellness can also deliver practical tips for employees on proper brushing, flossing and mouthwash use, gum-healthy food choices, and guides to regular dentist visits for cleaning.

With the large volume of research that exists today connecting the health of the mouth to the health of the body, the uniqueness of dental wellness offers employers helpful options they can present to their employees, and they reduce long-term costs. 

If employers spend just a little more on dental, they will save a lot more on medical.  We believe that if an employer adopts a wellness product as part of their overall coverage, and roughly 3% of people with a chronic condition and gum disease change their ways to adopt proper oral health, then the program breaks even.  Furthermore, the employer has done the right thing by employees, just by filling in the missing piece of their overall health coverage.

Consumers will also be more involved in researching, choosing, and then leveraging their coverage to maintain health and choose affordable care when it is needed.  But if they are doing the right thing by their mouth to prevent gum disease, thanks to a dental wellness program, hopefully such care can be minimized, and hopefully prevented!

To find out more about how the mouth is the missing piece to total wellness, visit UCMissingPiece.com.

[1] (CDC. “Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010.” Sept 2012.)

[2]http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/; (CDC. Fast Facts.) December, 2012

[3] J. Glindeman, Interview with Dental Economics, August 28, 2013