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Word of Mouth

Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Safeguard the oral health of your employees with autoimmune conditions

Are you protecting your employees from the effects of the “silent pandemic”?

More than 24 million Americans (about 7% of the population) have some form of autoimmune condition, and the prevalence is rising, according to the National Institutes of Health. Although you may not be aware, chances are some of your employees have, or are caring for someone who has, an autoimmune condition. It’s what some health researchers have labeled the “silent pandemic.”

For Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month this March, learn more about these conditions and what you can do to protect your employees’ oral and overall health.
 

What is an autoimmune condition?

The immune system normally helps the body stay healthy by fighting off invading microorganisms. But sometimes, the immune system starts attacking healthy cells and tissues. An autoimmune condition arises from this abnormal response to an otherwise healthy body part. Most autoimmune conditions cause inflammation, which produces redness, heat, pain and swelling.

There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune conditions. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the body part or parts affected. Some autoimmune conditions involve only one type of tissue; others involve many different parts of the body. For example, vasculitis primarily affects the blood vessels. Lupus, on the other hand, can damage the skin, heart, lungs and more.
 

How do autoimmune conditions affect the mouth?

Your employees with autoimmune conditions may be more susceptible to a number of oral health conditions, including:
 

  • Tooth decay. Many autoimmune conditions result in a decrease in saliva if the immune system attacks the salivary glands. Saliva helps to rinse the teeth and control bacteria population in the mouth, so less of it means you’re more prone to tooth decay.
  • Gum disease. Autoimmune conditions can also lower the body’s natural defenses against infection, making gums more susceptible to gingivitis and gum disease. Diabetes and gum disease are also linked, likely due to increased sugar levels in saliva, which allow bacteria to thrive. Gum disease can, in turn, make it more difficult for diabetic patients to manage their blood sugar levels.
  • TMJ disorder. Some autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, directly affect the joints. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder occurs when the hinge joint of the lower jaw becomes inflamed, causing pain and restricted movement.
  • Mouth ulcers. Autoimmune conditions such as lupus and Crohn’s disease can cause ulcers to develop more easily on the soft tissues of the mouth.
  • Blood vessel and nerve damage. Some autoimmune conditions cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves, which include those in the mouth. The support structure for the teeth can start to deteriorate.
     

How to help protect your employees

It’s especially important for your employees with autoimmune conditions to maintain their oral health through strong at-home routines and regular dental visits for cleanings and exams.

In fact, the dentist becomes a crucial member of the medical care team for those living with autoimmune conditions. The dentist helps your affected employees stay up to date with:
 

  • Cleanings. Employees with autoimmune diseases should plan to see their dentist more often than the typical schedule of once every six months. Quarterly cleanings may be necessary to prevent cavities and gum disease.
  • Exams. With regular exams, the dentist identifies the signs of oral health problems before they become more serious.
  • Medication. A dentist can also prescribe medications to help manage some of the oral manifestations of autoimmune conditions, such as ulcers or mouth sores.
     

How SmileWay® Wellness Benefits can help

To help protect your employees’ health, Delta Dental offers SmileWay Wellness Benefits (known as SmileWay Enhanced Benefits in Texas), which includes expanded dental coverage for members with any of 14 chronic medical conditions, including several of the most common autoimmune conditions.

Covered members and their dependents who have been diagnosed with any of these conditions qualify for additional teeth and gum cleanings, which can help them maintain their oral and overall health:
 

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Joint replacement
  • Lupus
  • Opioid misuse and addiction
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Stroke 
     

SmileWay Wellness Benefits are available for you to add on to all PPO large group plans. Talk to your Delta Dental representative to learn how your group can benefit.
 

Autoimmune conditions, your employees and you

Observe Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month this March by helping to raise awareness about these conditions:
 

Use the month of March to reach out to your employees and remind them that their oral health is a crucial component of their overall wellness.

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