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Insider Update

Broker blog from Delta Dental

How dental benefits can help your clients with autoimmune conditions

Are you protecting your clients 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 of it, chances are many of your clients 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 how dental benefits help protect your clients’ oral and overall health.

How to give your clients the protection they need

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

In fact, the dentist becomes a crucial member of the medical care team for those living with an autoimmune condition. The dentist can help your affected clients stay up to date with:
 

  • Cleanings. Those 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 help

Health and wellness are at the heart of what we do at Delta Dental. That’s why we offer expanded SmileWay Wellness Benefits (known as SmileWay Enhanced Benefits in Texas) to include 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 chronic conditions qualify for additional teeth and gum cleanings, which are crucial to maintaining 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 to add on to all PPO large group plans. For groups with this benefit, members who have been diagnosed with any of the qualifying chronic conditions can opt in online or by calling Customer Service.

Talk to your Delta Dental representative about adding Delta Dental’s SmileWay Wellness Benefits to your group clients’ plans.

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?

Those 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. 

Autoimmune conditions, your clients and you

Observe Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month by reminding your clients that their oral health is an important component of their overall health. Delta Dental is here to help protect their oral and overall health if they’re living with an autoimmune condition.

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