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Linking Dental Health and Heart Disease: How to Protect Employees

The plaque on your teeth and the plaque in your arteries are distinct issues with separate causes. However, years of research suggest that there’s a strong link between dental health and heart disease. Emphasizing preventive care can help employees stay healthy from head to heart and everywhere else.

The Dental Health-Heart Disease Connection

Gum disease, also known as periodontitis or periodontal disease, inflames gum tissues. In early stages, periodontitis is known by its more common name, gingivitis. As it progresses, gum disease has the potential to cause bleeding gums, tooth loss and serious infections — and potentially an increased risk of heart disease.

Here are some of the specific ways these conditions connect:

  • Poor dental health increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the bloodstream, which can affect the heart valves. Endocarditis, caused by a bacterial infection, is a rare, sometimes fatal inflammation of the lining of the heart muscle and valves.
  • Bacteria in your heart can make the body more susceptible to blood clots and plaque buildup that may lead to heart attacks.
  • Periodontal disease appears to raise blood pressure and interfere with medications that treat high blood pressure or hypertension. Untreated or poorly controlled hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes and heart failure.
  • Periodontal disease can also worsen existing heart conditions.
  • Preventing periodontal disease may help prevent heart disorders — as well as other health conditions such as diabetes — from developing.

The relationship between dental health and heart health seems to be reciprocal: People with chronic diseases, including heart conditions or diabetes, are more prone to gum disease than the average person, for example.

Employees who know and understand this connection will be better prepared to care for their health and well-being.

Protecting Employee Health and Productivity

Preventive oral care doesn’t only affect mouth and heart health. It can also mean long-term savings for you and your employees.

For example, if an employee has periodontal disease, they can experience better health outcomes and lower costs in the future by receiving care now. Receiving treatment early can particularly reduce long-term medical costs for patients with diabetes, coronary artery disease, and cerebral vascular disease. Employees with coronary artery disease who treat their periodontal disease also have fewer hospital admissions and lower medical costs overall.

Even with these benefits, convincing your employees to visit the dentist regularly may be challenging. Cost is a common barrier to seeking treatment. That’s where dental insurance may be able to help.

Investing in Coverage for Employees

Beyond offering dental coverage to your employees, you can encourage them to take full advantage of their benefits. You can also help simplify the process for them by making care accessible — offering a plan with a broad network that fully covers general preventive care and at least one annual exam and cleaning. That regular exam can make the difference between a healthy employee and one who is not, which, in turn, can help cut down on absenteeism.

Even with insurance, some employees may still find cost to be a barrier. In these cases, remind employees that they can use their health savings account or flexible spending account to cover out-of-pocket dental care costs. You can also emphasize the importance of oral health to their overall well-being, and show them you prioritize dental health by being as accommodating as possible when they need to see a dentist.

Protecting employees’ oral health today can help prevent dangerous health conditions and costlier care tomorrow. That’s why it’s critical to make sure your employees have the tools they need to protect their health.