Oral Health and Chronic Conditions: The ‘Racer’s Edge’ in Cost Management with Dental Benefits
It’s no secret that chronic diseases are one of the key drivers behind escalating healthcare costs. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension account for 75% of the U.S. healthcare spend – and a large percentage of illness-related absenteeism. 1
One study showed that a person with heart disease could have as many as eight days off per year attributable directly to the condition, plus a loss of half an hour per working day in productivity. That’s almost 1,100 hours of work lost a year per employee with the condition.2
And that figure just deals with heart disease directly, and doesn’t take into account risk factors like hypertension and high cholesterol.
Healthcare costs associated with hypertension exceed $131 billion annually, and continue to rise. A study commissioned by the American Heart Association found that people with high blood pressure spend nearly $2,000 more per year on healthcare, with no cost decrease forecasted.3
Similarly, studies have found that high cholesterol costs $60,000 for each quality year added to patients’ lives.4
And the contributions hypertension and high cholesterol make toward heart disease can be exacerbated by something extremely simple to treat, something that’s overlooked by benefit managers and employees alike: poor oral health.
Studies show a strong and distinct connection between heart disease and the bacteria present in the mouths of people with periodontitis (gum disease). Studies have also shown cross-connections between periodontal bacteria and diabetes, respiratory infections, fatty liver, obesity, and more – all chronic conditions that can be expensive to manage.5
Programs for Dental Benefits
Fortunately, chronic conditions present an opportunity to realize significant cost savings through wellness programs that include chronic disease prevention and management. And the best of those programs include dental benefits.
Regular checkups can detect conditions like periodontal disease in its early stages, opening the door for simple treatments that can keep harmful bacteria from multiplying in the mouth and worsening the condition.
Better yet, regular checkups as part of a simple but consistent oral health regimen can keep periodontal disease from developing – which can be a major cost-saver for employers as they look to stave off the development of more expensive chronic conditions.
Delta Dental has led the way in developing programs within their dental benefits offerings that can make people’s whole bodies healthier. A perfect example of this is our Evidence-Based Integrated Care Plan (EBICP), which pays for extra cleanings for pregnant women and people with chronic conditions like diabetes or infective endocarditis, a bacterial inflammation of the lining of the heart.
EBICP deals specifically with heart disease and diabetes because the connection between the two is strong. Very often people will have both conditions, and additional cleanings can help lessen the severity of both.
However, just encouraging employees to use their regular dental benefits can be a huge driver in managing chronic diseases, and lowering healthcare costs.
As the proud parent of a cross-country runner, I like to use a race analogy to describe the use of dental benefits to manage chronic conditions like heart disease – and here’s how I recommend running the race.
Don’t go out too fast.
Managing chronic conditions like heart disease is not a “one and done” thing. It’s going to be a part of many employees’ overall healthcare program for years. Because of that, programs that may offer a few extra cleanings for a year or so are less effective than dental benefits that continually emphasize preventive care and disease management, and generate cost savings over their lifetime.
Focus on your own time, not what people are doing around you.
Sometimes racers get too caught up in catching the person ahead of them, and lose focus on the splits and times they need to run to be successful. Similarly, your healthcare benefits program has to be right for your organization and its employees, and not what seems to work for other people.
In general, that’s going to mean sitting down with your benefits advisor, looking at your entire healthcare program, and asking: What am I doing to actively manage chronic conditions? When you do that, remember the power of dental benefits to help prevent and lessen the severity of chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Save something for the finish.
In the end, it’s all about saving something – money, in the case of dental benefits. It’s vital to find a dental benefits program that not only has the plan designs to help manage chronic conditions like heart disease, but also generates savings.
So as we cross the finish line here, I encourage you to contact me at Steve.LeRoy@deltadentalwi.com to learn more about dental benefits and their role in managing heart disease and other chronic conditions.
-  “Preventive Health Care,” accessed July 22, 2019, at https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/PreventiveHealth.html .
-  Goetzel, Ron Z., et al. “Health, absence, disability, and presenteeism cost estimates of certain physical and mental health conditions affecting US employers.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 46.4 (2004): 398-412.
-  “High Blood Pressure Leads to High Costs,” accessed April 2, 2019, at https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/hypertension-blood-pressure-costs.html.
-  Pandya, Ankur, et al. “Cost-effectiveness of Financial Incentives for Patients and Physicians to Manage Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels.” JAMA network open 1.5 (2018): e182008-e182008.
-  Nagpal, Ravinder, Yuichiro Yamashiro, and Yuichi Izumi. “The two-way association of periodontal infection with systemic disorders: an overview.” Mediators of inflammation 2015 (2015).