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Guest blog from Unum UK: Why dental should be at the forefront of workplace wellbeing strategies

uploaded on 26 June 2024

By Glenn Thompson, Chief Distribution Officer, Unum UK

With more than 12 million adults in England facing unmet needs for NHS dentistry[1], the UK’s ongoing dental crisis presents two critical challenges: accessibility and affordability.

Workplace repercussions are becoming more evident. One in ten adults in England have missed at least 2 weeks of work in the past 3 years due to oral health concerns[2], affecting employee wellbeing, productivity, and overall health. For HR decision-makers, integrating support for dental health into workplace wellbeing strategies is not merely beneficial — it’s essential.

In response to these concerns, offerings from dental insurance provided by employers have evolved. Many now include preventative health services, which are crucial in addressing access and affordability issues whilst also promoting overall wellbeing. Government statistics reveal that a quarter of all adults have not visited a dentist in the past 2 years, and a similar number only brush their teeth once a day[3]. These trends contribute to poor oral health and sickness absence, with an associated negative economic impact.

A recent study from Unum UK revealed the severity of the dentistry crisis. More than one in five (21%) employees avoided dental appointments last year due to the cost-of-living crisis[4]. This highlights the significant financial barriers individuals face when trying to seek essential dental care. As a result, preventative measures are often neglected, leading to a higher likelihood of developing more serious problems in the future.

The impact of the dentistry crisis extends beyond the financial, encompassing broader health implications 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 conditions, including heart problems, stroke, diabetes, lung and respiratory infections and even low birthweight or premature birth.

The significance of preventative dental care cannot be overstated, particularly considering 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.

What steps can employers take to support preventative dental health in the workplace?

Promoting education and awareness

Provide educational resources that emphasise the importance of dental health and preventative measures that help maintain good oral hygiene. Not only this but reinforcing the importance of regular dental check-ups and offering flexibility to employees to attend these appointments could help cut the risk of longer dental-related absences later.

Holistic wellbeing strategies

Incentivise good oral hygiene habits that encourage employees to take proactive steps in maintaining good dental hygiene, such as healthy eating challenges that promote better oral health. Remain mindful of the food and drink options you provide at work, avoiding excess sugar where possible.

Access to dental cover

Consider Dental Insurance as part of your wider employee benefits package. This can help both employees and their families by paying towards the cost of preventative services such as dentist check-ups and hygienist appointments, as well as more extensive treatments.

In 2023, Unum saw a 29% year-on-year increase in the value of dental claims paid to more than £31 million as more people consider insurance to mitigate rising dental costs. Recognising that a digital, customer-first approach could help address the dentistry crisis and promote preventative care, Unum partnered with Toothfairy to empower individuals to prioritise their dental health.

This bespoke app is available to all new and renewing Dental clients and serves as a single-entry point to high-quality dental services, providing guidance on preventative care and routine treatments. Features include seamless access to a 1-2-1 dentist chat helpline, video consultations[5], an emergency appointment finder, and everyday savings and discounts.

Over the past two years, take up of Unum’s dental insurance benefit through Edenred’s mylifestyle platform has grown almost ten-fold. An increasing number of public sector employers are introducing the benefit for their employees and positive feedback continues to be received about how easy it is for employees to access the benefit via the platform, enrol and then claim online to be reimbursed for some or all of the cost of their dental treatment.

Public sector employers of all sizes include the Unum dental insurance benefit for their people through the Edenred platform, including HMRC, Ministry of Defence, Metropolitan Police, Waste And Resources Action Programme in addition to many more.

Prioritising dental health within workplace wellbeing strategies makes good business sense, helping to reduce absenteeism whilst contributing to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

Get in touch

If you would like to learn more Unum’s dental insurance benefit, contact your account manager or get in touch via ERUK-Sales-PublicSector@edenred.com

 

[1] Dentists barred English NHS patients over skipped checkups in pandemic, The Guardian, February 2024

[2] Four million people off work with dental illnesses, Dentistry, March 2024

[3] Oral health and the workplace, Oral Health Foundation

[4] Censuswide survey of 3,025 full-time and part-time British employees, between 2nd - 9th October 2023

[5] At additional cost to the employee, which can be claimed back up to policy benefit limits.

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