voluntary market


The advantages of dental and vision coverage aren’t so blurry anymore

by Deborah Sternberg

Ms. Sternberg is president of Starmount Life Insurance Company. Starmount is a member of the Unum Group family and is the center of expertise for Unum Dental and Unum Vision products, which launched January 1, 2017.

February 23, 2017 — Dental and vision insurance have often been overlooked historically, but the coverages are increasingly becoming an essential part of a comprehensive benefits package.

There are several factors contributing to the changing landscape, causing both employers and employees to see the benefits more clearly.

Regular dental and vision exams can lower costly health risks

For starters, studies are showing a stronger association between poor dental and vision health and more serious health issues. Oral cancer has a higher death rate than cervical, thyroid or skin cancer because it’s routinely discovered late in its progression.1 Conditions like diabetes and macular degeneration – both of which can be detected in eye exams – can lead to blindness if not caught early.2,3

Regular visits to the dentist and eye doctor can aid in the early detection of several health concerns, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and brain tumors.4,5 Early detection of these symptoms can sometimes give employees time to correct the issues before they develop into more serious health conditions, like heart disease, strokes or cancer. Early diagnosis can also make treatment easier and less costly.6 And, of course, those who have dental and vision coverage are more likely to attend regular checkups.

Worker productivity shows offering the coverage is worth the investment

From an employer’s perspective, improving the overall wellness of employees reduces costs and improves worker productivity. The Surgeon General estimates that 160 million on-the-job hours are spent dealing with oral health issues. Further, almost 65 percent of adults in the U.S. experience digital eye strain systems – like headaches, blurred vision and neck pain – impacting a worker’s productivity.7

Without preventive dental and vision care, employees are putting themselves at higher risk for more serious health problems. In turn, this could lead to significant costs for the employer, including employee absenteeism, presenteeism and higher costs for the employer’s health plan. Employers that offer dental and vision plans may start to see happier and healthier employees; reduction in absenteeism and turnover; and increases in productivity and company revenue.

Medical plans lack adequate coverage

For many people — even those with good major medical plans through their employer — coverage does not include regular dental and vision exams.

According to the American Dental Association, there’s a dental-related emergency room visit every 15 seconds. The number of visits for dental-related incidents doubled from 2000 to 2012 and is still on the rise.8 Lack of preventive services and regular maintenance can cause serious problems, and employees visiting the emergency room end up footing a very costly bill. Even if medical insurance pays 80 percent of that bill – the employee is responsible for the remaining 20 perecent. Not to mention, that emergency room trip will likely increase medical rates come renewal time.

Employees recognize the benefit of access to affordable coverage

While 77 percent of employers pay for or share the cost of dental coverage offered through the workplace, we can expect many of these costs to shift to the employee – a continuing trend in the overall benefits industry.9 The rising costs of health care are causing employers to reevaluate which benefits to offer employees and at what price. Employers should realize that even if they can’t contribute to group dental and vision plans, it’s still important that they offer them. The workplace is the most affordable place to buy coverage, even if all the costs are passed on to the employee. And, oral and vision health can easily be incorporated into an existing wellness program of any size.

Dental and vision insurance is not only an investment in the overall health and well-being of employees, it’s also a way to improve worker productivity and employers’ bottom line. Since more workers consider the importance of affordable benefits, providing access to quality coverage and workplace wellness can help with recruitment and retention efforts while helping employers meet their business goals.


1. Oral Cancer Foundation, “Oral Cancer Facts” (2016).
2. American Academy of Opthalmology, “Your Eyes Could Be the Window to Your Health” (2016).
3. National Eye Institute, “Facts about Age-Related Macular Degeneration” (2015).
4. Mayo Clinic, “Oral Health: A Window to Your Overall Health” (2016).
5. The Vision Council of America, “Eye Care & Protection” (2016).
6. Center for Disease Control, “The Burden of Vision Loss” (2016).
7. The Vision Council, “Eyes Overexposed: The Digital Device Dilemma” (2016).
8. National Dental Association, “Dental-Related Emergency Department Visits on the Increase in the United States” by Thomas Wall, M.A., M.B.A.; Kamyar Nasseh, Ph.D. (2014)
9. National Association of Dental Plans, 2015 State of the Dental Benefits Market (2016)