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Jan 29, 2024
Good dental health for children also benefits parents at work

Cavities can be regarded as part of growing up, with nearly half of 2- to 19-year-olds experiencing at least one case of tooth decay. This causes children and teens to miss an average of 2.2 days per school year, while their parents miss an average of 2.5 days of work annually taking them to dental appointments and staying home with kids who cannot go to school due to dental pain.  

“When these children have to miss school to take care of oral health issues, their parents also have to step away from work to take care of their kids, so the dental health of children can affect an employee’s work productivity, making an impact on the business as well,” said Dr. Deborah Fuller, national dental director for Cigna Healthcare.

Even when these parents are present at work, their children’s dental issues can distract them from performing their best. “We all know that personal issues can sometimes get in the way of work productivity,” Dr. Fuller said. “For working parents, their children’s health and well-being are top-of-mind concerns.”

In addition, oral health issues can have an impact on a child’s overall health, because untreated tooth decay can lead to pain and infections that may cause problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Research shows that children with dental problems tend to have lower grades than those who don’t. “These are all family issues that working parents are likely to carry with them into the workplace,” Dr. Fuller said. “But the good news is they can be reduced or prevented altogether when parents and children are proactive about implementing strong dental health habits early on.”

A little prevention can make a big difference

While cavities in children are common, they’re preventable with regular dental checkups, said Dr. Cary Sun, chief dental officer of Cigna Healthcare. Children should see a dentist at least once every six months, possibly more often if they have a lot of plaque buildup or tooth decay, he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13% of young people have untreated cavities, which can lead to more serious dental problems. “It’s very likely that parents are postponing dental care for these children and adolescents until they have a very serious need,” Dr. Sun said.

Children with poor oral health are nearly 3 times more likely to miss school due to needing serious or emergency dental treatment. That accounts for almost one-fourth of missed school time for dental needs – roughly 34.4 million hours out of the total 142 million hours missed for all dental visits.

“It’s understandable that parents and caretakers are juggling many things in their work and home life, and preventive dental visits can fall way down on their list of priorities,” Dr. Sun said. “However, these visits will save them time away from school and work, as well as money, by heading off bigger and more expensive dental problems down the road.”

Education and flexibility help employers maximize use of dental benefits

Employers can help minimize lost productivity by providing dental plans as part of their employee benefits package and by encouraging benefit utilization with their workforce. The American Dental Association reports that among children covered by dental plans, about 1 in 3 have not seen a dentist in the past year. “Even when employees have dental benefits, they’re not necessarily using them, because of other priorities in work and life,” Dr. Fuller said.

She recommends employers educate employees about their dental benefits. For example, employer clients who purchased group dental plans from Cigna Healthcare can leverage the carrier’s communication materials, tools and resources in their internal company communication plans. They can also partner with a Cigna Healthcare health engagement consultant to develop a unique wellness education plan that would best fit their employees’ needs.

Dr. Fuller also suggests companies allow flexibility in work schedules to give working parents the time they need to take their children to dental appointments.

Dr. Sun adds that employers should promote the importance of maintaining good oral health to all their employees, including working parents. “Parents’ behaviors affect their children,” he said, “so they should set a good example of proper dental hygiene and maintenance.” He notes that Cigna Healthcare offers several solutions for employers to offer convenient support for their workers’ oral health, including worksite dental care programs, virtual dentist appointments, and the SmartScan tool, which allows people to use their smartphone to check for potential oral health issues between dental visits. Employers can ask their Cigna Healthcare representative or broker about program options that can help employees and family members stay on top of their dental care, enabling them to be more healthy and productive at work and at school.

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