While many employers re-evaluate files health plans To ensure their workers receive affordable and accessible care, they may neglect an essential part of everyday health: dental care.
Nearly half of insured Americans skip recommended dental visits or procedures due to cost, according to a 2021 survey by consumer spending resource ValuePenguin. Not to mention that access to dental care is not always readily available, especially in rural America. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than 60% of counties do not have access to an orthodontist’s office.
“You can’t have a healthy body without a healthy mouth,” says Dr. Jeffrey Solitzer, chief medical officer of Smile Direct Club, a tele-dental platform. “Oral health is related to overall health in many ways, but we underestimate the fact that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body.”
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In fact, the American Dental Hygienist Association estimates that nearly 80% suffer from some form of periodontal disease, or gum infection. If a patient has gum disease, where bacteria get trapped and degrade in the mouth, this can trigger an inflammatory response, increasing the risk of poor cardiovascular health, diabetes and stroke. Dr. Solitzer notes that crooked teeth only make it easier to leave food particles behind and decay, despite attempts to brush and floss well. In addition, the teeth may grind together excessively, causing jaw joint pain or even sinus problems.
“You benefit from straight teeth beyond just cosmetic reasons,” he says. “It’s easier to brush and care for your teeth. But there are significant barriers to improving oral health.”
According to Dr. Solitzer, orthodontic treatment can cost between $5,000 and $8,000 for braces alone (this does not necessarily explain orthodontist visits, retainers, x-rays, or other diagnostic tests), and most health plans do not cover orthodontic treatment for anyone over He is over 18 years old. Meanwhile, workers will have to take at least a few hours off to attend an appointment – if they are lucky enough to have an orthodontist in their community.
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encourage d. Employers are encouraged to consider expanding their dental care plans, and to be part of removing barriers to oral health. But to do so, employers will have to address affordability and accessibility. Fortunately, telehealth models are not limited to primary health care. Platforms like the Smile Direct Club can access “dental deserts” and reduce costs due to their ability to retain initial visits or virtual consultations, explains Dr. Solitzer.
“We eliminate the inadequacies of unnecessary in-person visits and do it 60% less than traditional places where you can get braces,” he says. “In a virtual environment, clinicians can easily examine teeth with 3D imaging, rather than sitting there trying to look while patients keep their mouth open.”
Dr. Solitzer hopes that telemedicine will be an effective and convenient method of care for patients and dental professionals alike, making it easier for staff to seek help and avoid serious health conditions in the future. Smile Direct Club has already worked with 2 million patients, partnering with insurance companies like Aetna and UnitedHealthcare to offer their services as part of a larger health plan. However, patients can access the platform individually, and employers can help cover the costs with either a $89 per month plan or a $2,050 single payment.
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Even if not through the Smile Direct Club, Dr. Solitzer advises employers to start paying more attention to dental benefits and their coverage limits.
“Basically, better dental benefits result in better health and less healthcare spending,” says Dr. Solitzer. “And it’s another mechanism that helps attract and retain good employees.”
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