KANSAS CITY, Missouri--Evidence of a direct connection between oral health and general health continues to mount. As a result, Assurant Employee Benefits is taking the lead in making important changes to most of its dental benefit plans to provide health and cost-saving advantages to employers and employees.
The dental program, called "Lifetime of Smiles," impacts new business effective in January 2007. At that time, most new Assurant Employee Benefits dental plans will cover the following:
*four cleanings per year - two routine and two periodontal
*tooth-colored fillings for posterior teeth
*brush biopsy procedures
Additional cleanings may reduce the incidence of periodontal disease, a bacterial infection of the gums and the bone that support the teeth. Periodontal disease can also lead to significant general health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and low-birth-weight and/or premature babies.
Assurant Employee Benefits is leading the industry by providing tooth-colored fillings as standard for posterior teeth. Such fillings generally require less removal of healthy tooth structure and are preferred by the majority of dentists, according to information published in Dental Economics in 2002.
A brush biopsy is a simple, painless procedure performed in a dentist's office to detect abnormal cells that may indicate oral cancer. According to the American Dental Association, oral cancer is most treatable when discovered in its earliest stages.
"When dental care can make a real difference in conditions that are often disabling or even fatal, we want to make that care available to those covered by our dental plans," said James Gimarelli, D.M.D., vice president of dental at Assurant Employee Benefits.
"It is clear that dental care can help prevent diseases that can disable employees and keep them off the job, or even claim lives. Our dental plan enhancements cover services that create the opportunity to further protect the overall health of participants."
Some insurance companies have made such expanded dental benefits available as an extra-cost option or as an added benefit for certain employees, such as pregnant women or people already diagnosed with conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Assurant Employee Benefits is believed to be the first insurer to make all of these benefits standard, across-the-board features of most dental plans.
"Medical evidence says this is where dental care needs to be, and we're proud to be the insurance company that is setting the standard," Gimarelli said. "Providing enhanced dental coverage as a means of addressing the need for better, more efficient health care demonstrates our continued commitment to meeting customer needs with leading-edge products."
Gimarelli cited several medical statistics that demonstrate the importance and value of more frequent dental hygiene and brush biopsies:
*An estimated 80 percent of Americans have some form of periodontal disease, according to a 2006 report by the American Dental Association, and 95 percent of Americans with diabetes also have some form of periodontal disease, according to a 2004 fact sheet published by the American Dental Hygienist Association.
*Studies have shown that chronic infections such as periodontal disease can negatively impact the body's blood sugar control mechanism, and that eliminating such infections can enhance metabolic control in persons with diabetes, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
*Several studies show that people with periodontal disease are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, according to NIDCR; scientists theorize that these bacteria induce the immune system to release inflammation agents that may contribute to heart disease and stroke.
*People with severe periodontal disease have a more than four times greater risk of stroke than those with mild or no periodontal disease, according to Stroke, January 2004.
*NIDCR researchers believe that infectious periodontal disease may contribute to an estimated 45,000 premature and/or low-birth-weight births in the United States each year.
*A recent study at the University of Alabama found that periodontal cleanings, including scaling and root planning, decrease the incidence of pre-term or low-birth-weight infants by women with periodontal disease by 87 percent, according to a report in the Journal of Dental Research in 2003.
*In 2001, the difference in the total medical bill between a normal full-term birth and a premature birth is typically more than $70,000, according to the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy.
*Oral and pharyngeal cancer account for more than 8,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. each year - more than either melanoma or cervical cancer, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Gimarelli said the treatment of chronic, serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and low-weight births not only can often be extremely expensive, but also often can result in significant absenteeism.
"A dental plan designed to help prevent serious health conditions is a wise investment, particularly for small businesses that can be severely affected by absenteeism," Gimarelli said.
"Any company with a commitment to a wellness program or that recognizes the importance of wellness to their bottom line should give careful and serious consideration to how closely their dental benefit supports their wellness goals."
Another addition to the company's dental plans is an online DentalHealthCenter providing a valuable educational tool for covered employees to learn more about dental health, dental care and the connection between oral hygiene and overall wellness.
The Denta lHealth Center can be accessed through a link on the Assurant Employee Benefits home page, www.assurantemployeebenefits.com.