According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by age 34 approximately 80% of Americans have had at least one cavity, more than 50% show signs of gum disease, and 25% have untreated tooth decay.[i] Although high, these statistics don’t seem too staggering on their own. “Who cares if I get a cavity?” most people would say. Well, there are other consequences of dental decay, including the exacerbation of health issues outside the realm of dentistry. The correlation between oral health and overall health is stronger than we have traditionally thought. This realization impacts people of all ages, but the good news is that employers and employees can use dental information to help control costs and improve outcomes across a broad health spectrum.

Dr. Bruce Donoff, Dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, states “Poor oral health is more than a ‘tooth problem.’ We use our mouth to eat, to breath, and to speak. Inflammation of the gums and mouth may help set the stage for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions.”[ii] While we have to be careful to not attribute correlation to causation (e.g., there is a strong correlation between divorce rates in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine)[iii], the CDC and American Dental Association, among others, have uncovered some startling discoveries about the relationship between oral health and overall health, including some of the most widespread conditions in the U.S.

Two major conditions that appear to be linked to oral health are diabetes and heart conditions. Individuals with diabetes and gum disease may experience more severe symptoms ‒ and if they are able to improve their oral health, they may see significant improvement in their diabetes.[iv] The same goes for coronary artery disease, as there appears to be a connection between inflammation in the mouth and in other parts of the body.[v] Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that people with periodontal disease were twice as likely to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke.[vi] While the former primarily impacts adults, poor oral health also holds consequences for young people. For example, kids with poor oral health have a greater risk of sleeping and eating disorders compared to those with good oral hygiene.[vii] There is also stigma that comes with having poor oral hygiene, which for kids and adults can have negative impacts on self-confidence and other aspects of mental health.

Keep in mind, there is a two-way street between oral health and systematic health ‒ and each has the ability to influence the other. Good preventive dental care can help support and maintain overall health, and reduce the need for medical treatments. Research conducted by Optum showed, among those who received routine cleanings and periodontal care over a 12-month period, there was an overall net savings of $1,037 per patient ‒ and $4,000 for those with diabetes and coronary artery disease.[viii]

However, not everyone utilizes the preventive benefits of their dental plans. In fact, not everyone elects to purchase coverage. Cost is often the reason for both. How can employers help? In order to encourage participation and utilization, they can offer an affordable, well-designed dental plan for all employees. As we’ve outlined here, affordable preventive dental care has many benefits for employees, but there are also significant benefits for employers. Aside from recruitment and retention attributes, keeping a healthy employee population can reduce absenteeism, increase engagement, and ‒ if you’re experience rated ‒ can even directly impact your healthcare costs. Employers do not need to try and accomplish this on their own. They can seek a benefits consultant who will educate them on the “benefits of their benefits.”

[i] “Oral Health Basics,” May 2, 2018, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

[ii] R. Bruce Donoff, DMD, DDS, “It’s Time to Break Down the Wall Between Dentistry and Medicine,” July 17, 2017,

[iii] Data sources: National Vital Statistics Reports and U.S. Department of Agriculture

[iv] Peter Russell, “Treating Gum Disease May Help Manage Diabetes,” October 2018,

[v] D. Herrera, J. Meyle, S. Renvert, and L. Jin, “White Paper on Prevention and Management of Periodontal Diseases for Oral Health and General Health,” 2018, FDI World Dental Federation


[vii] “Oral Health Basics/Children’s Oral Health,” April 25, 2018, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

[viii] “Dental Benefits: A Bridge to Oral Health and Wellness,” January 2018, 5th Annual Guardian Workplace Benefits Study