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p21 GlogowskiGlogowski    By KARYN GLOGOWSKI
    Eighty-seven percent of Illinois adults say their oral health is very important to them and more than two-thirds of employees consider dental benefits to be a very important part of an overall compensation package.
    Yet many small-business owners do not offer dental benefits. That short-term decision can negatively affect both the small business and its employees in the long run.
    For example, a lack of dental benefits can jeopardize employee recruitment and retention. It can also hamper employee productivity and health. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans missed work due to oral health concerns in 2016. While this number has declined, missed work hours and health issues could be mitigated with regular dental visits, and Illinoisans with dental coverage are 58 percent more likely to visit the dentist.
    Offering dental benefits is a smart business decision, but it’s not always easy. In fact, small-business owners say offering competitive compensation and benefits will be one of the most challenging issues for them in 2019, according to a national study of small business owners.
    To help with this challenge, here are some tips for small businesses to consider when selecting a dental benefit plan or carrier to offer their employees:
    1. Strong nationwide network: Look for an experienced dental carrier that provides access to a strong nationwide network that will result in high employee network usage. A good benchmark is network usage of 65 to 80 percent. Employees who see network dentists enjoy discounts and other network protections. Network usage translates into cost savings for the employer, too.
    2. Flexibility in plan design: Choose a dental carrier that provides a range of plan options, so you can find one that makes sense for you and your business.
    3. Rate guarantees: Find a carrier that offers rate guarantees — something that is not always afforded to smaller groups.  
    4. Excellent customer service and innovative technology.
    5. Focus on wellness: The carrier should offer programs that support you in empowering your employees to make the most of their dental plan and achieve good overall health and overall well-being.  
    Choosing the right dental carrier can help you better manage health care costs for your business. It can also help employees get even more out of their benefits – and contribute to productivity and overall well-being.
    Karyn Glogowski is senior vice president, sales and client relations, Delta Dental of Illinois.