Buck Bond Group
Why dental cover now matters more to employees

Why dental cover now matters more to employees

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The post-pandemic patterns that we are seeing across NHS healthcare, with access challenges and long wait times for appointments and treatment, also remain prevalent in dental care. This means that while dental cover was previously a welcome addition to a benefits package, that could offer faster or enhanced treatment options, it could now be vital to timely, effective treatment. It can therefore now make a far bigger difference to employees’ overall health and wellbeing.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the accessibility of dental treatment. With all routine dentistry suspended during the first lockdown, with treatment only available for the most urgent cases, the resulting backlog is still having a major impact on services. Access to NHS dental care remains severely restricted, with long wait lists for joining dental practices. As a consequence, some dental practices have stopped offering NHS treatment altogether.

In 2021, Healthwatch England reported that it could take up to three years’ wait for routine dental appointments – or six weeks for emergency care – on the NHS.[1] This wait time could still vary between months and years depending on where you live, with news outlets consistently reporting on exceptional wait times across the U.K. Many practices are now advising that going private is the best option where possible.

However, with significantly higher costs for private treatment, affordability is a concern. This is even more relevant as we enter a cost of living crisis, and sadly many people’s dental health is now at risk. Costs mean that some patients are not attending the check-up appointments they should, in order to save money. This could lead to bigger problems down the line, if dental health risks are not caught early. In more concerning cases, patients are delaying or cancelling much-needed treatment as they simply can’t afford it.

This is where a dental scheme can go a long way to help employees gain access to private dental treatment when needed. Dental insurance can be relatively affordable, depending on how it is structured, and now would be a pertinent investment to support your wellbeing strategy. Dental cover remains one of the most popular benefits offered via employer flexible benefit schemes. Policies are available to cover routine check-ups, as well as the costs of other dental treatment, dental accidents, and emergencies. Certain policies also include cover for treatment of oral cancer.

While funded private dental schemes are an option, this can include partially or wholly employer-funded arrangements. These can allow employees access to voluntary schemes, whereby costs can be spread across the year. Enabling this via salary deductions can help employees gain access to necessary dental care or emergency treatment, as well as providing peace of mind that they can budget for larger, unexpected treatment costs.

For private treatment, employees will be able to claim back a percentage of their treatment cost, up to certain annual limit. If they use an NHS dentist, they’re more likely to get back 100% of the cost of treatment, but they will need to weigh up the treatment cost versus current NHS restrictions to decide the most appropriate route for their situation. Most insurers offer access to an app or portal where invoices for treatment can be uploaded and payments settled direct to the individual’s bank account within days.

Dental cover has advantages for both employees and employers. If your employees are unable to get a speedy NHS appointment, access to private treatment can reduce the risks of bigger complications down the line, minimising the time employees take off work. This reduces company absence costs, as well as improving employee wellbeing. For example, gum disease has been known to increase the risk of many other health-related complications, and there is growing evidence that good oral and dental hygiene, with regular check-ups, is essential to achieving and maintaining overall physical wellbeing. Even in simpler cases where a solution to a dental issue may be straightforward, there can still be a knock-on effect in the workplace – we’ve all had toothache from time to time so know how hard it can be to concentrate and work effectively with such discomfort. Private treatment can improve productivity and presenteeism in both the short- and longer-term.

The private dental insurance industry is expected to grow by more than 10% over the next five years, as the NHS continues to struggle to meet demand. With everyone facing more barriers to NHS dental care, a dental package is not only a particularly relevant benefit which can help to attract and retain employees, but can also have significant positive impacts for employers.

[1] https://www.healthwatch.co.uk/sites/healthwatch.co.uk/files/20210524%20Dentistry%20during%20COVID-19%20Insight%20Briefing.pdf