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On-site dental frees up time for employees, increases productivity for employers

South Jordan’s Merit Medical opens permanent dental clinic

Kent Naylor looks at his teeth with Robert Mares, a registered dental assistant, after getting a crown and fillings at Merit Dental in South Jordan on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. The dental office serves Merit Medical employees, their spouses and dependents. Naylor is a senior engineer at Merit Medical.
Kent Naylor looks at his teeth with Robert Mares, a registered dental assistant, after getting a crown and fillings at Merit Dental in South Jordan on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. The dental office serves Merit Medical employees, their spouses and dependents. Naylor is a senior engineer at Merit Medical.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — For years Dane Ross has been afraid to smile because his front tooth was chipped. It wasn’t covered on previous dental plans because the issue was mostly aesthetic.

“I was worried about the cost,” he said. “I didn’t want to fork out a couple grand to get that fixed.”

Since working at Merit Medical, however, Ross, of Lehi, has had his teeth cleaned, a cavity filled and that bothersome tooth fixed, all while he was, technically, at work — the facility has a permanent on-site dental clinic.

“They filled it in and it looks really nice,” the 34-year-old purchasing agent said.

Merit CEO Fred Lampropoulos said he grew up without access to dental care. His family was essentially homeless when they arrived in Salt Lake City in the 1960s and “we just didn’t get the care we needed.”

“I came from a family and a time when I don’t think they understood the need or the value of dental care,” he said.

Having been through that, Lampropoulos said, he wants better for his employees and their families. Merit already has an on-site medical clinic and pharmacy, as well as mental health advisers. So dental was the next step.

Since opening in May, the Merit dental clinic — with two part-time dentists, three hygienists and bilingual assistants — has served 1,136 patients with 2,724 appointments, providing more than $340,000 in benefits to employees. Patients don’t pay anything out of pocket and can get up to $3,000 in care per person each year.

Lampropoulos said insurance costs have gone up at Merit every year for at least the last six years. With 2,200 employees and their family members, it was getting out of hand. He said annual bonuses were going home to pay for rising health care costs. The people of Salt Lake City welcomed and cared for his family decades ago and he wants to pay it back, at least starting with his own employees.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that companies lose $45 billion in productivity annually due to employees’ dental emergencies. Innovative steps like the clinic at Merit, as well as “pop-up” dental operations like the Utah-based Jet Dental and others, help make dental care more convenient and affordable.

“We gain in productivity and they gain in accessibility and everybody wins,” Lampropoulos said, adding that the various on-site benefits have helped the employees who use it to become healthier.

It also helps Merit Medical to be competitive, attracting talent and maintaining an effective and stable employee base.

“I’ll be honest. I’m the type that would go to the dentist every couple of years out of sheer convenience,” said Jackson Taggart, a global portfolio manager for the medical device manufacturer headquartered in South Jordan. “I travel quite often for work and when I’m in town, I have meetings with high-level executives, so, it is hard for me to justify breaking away for half a day, just to get my teeth cleaned.”

With the fairly new on-site dental clinic, Taggart, of Cottonwood Heights, said he is able to take time out of his day and even meet up with his wife and two children to get semi-annual, preventive cleanings done together and on time.

They were impressed with the state-of-the-art equipment used, including ceiling-mounted television screens and massage chairs and hand-held X-ray technology, and with how well the staff handled his kids, the youngest of whom hadn’t yet visited a dentist.

“It was kind of amazing,” Taggart said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

The convenience, along with the comfortable environment and affordability, he said, will make it easier to stay on top of any problems in his mouth.

“My teeth have been good for the most part,” Taggart said. “But now I’ll probably go to the dentist every six months like I should because it’s very easy to do so.”