Most of us will have had to deal with toothache at some point in our lives and will be aware of how painful it can be and just how much treatment can hit us in the pocket.

For employers it can be just as painful, with the cost and administration associated with dealing with employee sickness proving a major drain on finances and resources.

Research carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) indicates that employers are already losing around £29 billion every year due to workers taking time off due to illness.1 In many cases, ailments are unavoidable – but dental health is something that can be closely controlled and managed.

UK workers have an average of 9.1 sick days each year, which is more than four times the amount of sick days compared to staff in the Asia Pacific region (2.2 days), and almost double those in the US (4.9 days).2

Looking at dental health in particular, the British Society of Dental Hygiene Therapy estimates that around 415,000 UK employees miss at least one day of work each year due to oral health problems, which costs employers around £37 million.3

The main risk factors for oral diseases include an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, alcohol and poor oral hygiene, all of which can be controlled by the individual and some can even be influenced by employers. 

What can employers do?

On a fundamental level, it is in employers’ best interests to promote the health and wellbeing of their staff, as any illness, sickness or inability to do a job will impact them directly.

The effects can range from lost man hours, increased costs due to paying out sick pay or for temporary staff, or reputational damage stemming from a job not being done properly or even done at all due to absence.

There are so many factors that could influence a company’s bottom line that taking a proactive approach to employee health should play a key role in an organisation’s business model.

As we learned in the Chancellor’s Budget, a new sugar tax from April 2018 will likely see a hike in the cost of fizzy drinks, which should have a positive impact on dental health and overall wellbeing in the longer term, but there are things that companies can do today to make a difference to employee health and fitness.

When it comes to dental health, or medical appointments in general, employers are not obligated to allow staff to take time off to fulfil them and, as such, are within their rights to refuse such requests to minimise lost time, particularly in cases where annual leave allowance has already been used up. Of course, this can have several knock-on effects; including disengagement from disgruntled employees leading to a reduction in productivity, which can then hit revenue. Another is dental or other health problems not being identified at an earlier stage, which could then lead to a severe problem down the line that requires a significant amount of time off.

Employers can help to curb this threat by incorporating allowances into worker contracts that state employees are entitled to a certain amount of time off per year to attend dental check-ups and doctors appointments, whether they are unexpected or routine.

Not only will this help to paint the organisation as a benevolent one that cares about the wellbeing of its staff, but it could also help to limit the amount of hours lost to unexpected sickness and help protect the bottom line.

Another way you can encourage employees to be proactive about their health and wellbeing is by providing them with a health care cash plan. Cash plans allow your employees to claim money back towards a range of health care costs, including private and NHS dental check-ups and treatment, glasses, contact lenses, physiotherapy and much more, helping to make paying for treatment more affordable.

As NHS dental charges are increasing year on year, people may be discouraged to visit the dentist, however by implementing a cash plan, your employees are more likely to keep on top of their routine dental check-ups and get treatment early on, therefore nipping any potential problems in the bud.

1 PwC http://www.pwc.co.uk/services/human-resource-services/insights/the-rising-cost-of-absence-sick-bills-cost-uk-businesses-29bn-a-year.html
2 PwC http://pwc.blogs.com/press_room/2013/07/rising-sick-bill-is-costing-uk-business-29bn-a-year-pwc-research.html
3 British Society of Dental Hygiene Therapy http://www.bsdht.org.uk/news-1/work-missed-due-to-oral-health-problems-costs-the-uk-economy-more-than-36-million-each-year-1

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