Dentists are becoming more proactive about taking care of their patients’ overall health, rather than focusing solely on oral health.
The healthy teeth-healthy body concept was front and center at the recent California Dental Association’s CDA Presents 2015 conference. Dentists were urged to deepen their understanding on how inflammation and oral bacteria affect systemic health, so that the dental team “can help save both teeth and lives … through traditional dental techniques and alternative wellness solutions” during a presentation by DeWitt Wilkerson, DMD, according to an article DrBicuspid.com.
Wilkerson encouraged dentists to rethink how they approach periodontal conditions, screen patients for sleep apnea, and educate them about nutrition.
“If we can teach people how to take care of themselves … by golly we can reduce the healthcare cost dramatically throughout a lifetime and bring the cost of healthcare down,” Dr. Wilkerson said, according to the Dr. Bicuspid article.
Science is increasingly finding strong connections between oral health and overall wellness. A single mouth can be home to more than 6 billion bacteria – more than the human population of earth.
Most of these bacteria aren’t harmful –and some, like the probiotics, actually have good intentions. Others though, such as Streptococcus mutans, cause tooth decay. Periodontal (gum) disease is caused by bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis working their way under gum tissue. Untreated, the infection will destroy gums and bones.
Oral infections have also been linked with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, respiratory, infections, breast cancer and premature births. Additional studies on the connections between periodontal and other diseases are now underway – as researchers examine the effect of oral bacteria entering the bloodstream.
Some dentists are beginning to advise patients with periodontal conditions to have a saliva test, to determine whether their bodies harbor the high bacterial loads that can be indicative of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Cost for the test is about $100.
Dentists can also improve patients overall health by looking for the oral clues that indicate issues such as sleep apnea and digestive issues, as well as general stress. Patients who grind their teeth – the technical term is “Bruxism” may be stressed out, or may actually be struggling to breathe during an episode of sleep apnea.
Dr. Wilkerson noted that dentists and hygienists have a unique opportunity to educate their patients about overall health, since a dental team typically spends more time with patients than other doctors do.
“The average physician spends seven minutes every two years with their patient,” Dr. Wilkerson said, in contrast to dentists and hygienists who may see patients twice a year for a half-hour or so and “have a captive audience while they are in the chair.”
Whether you’re keen on being a captive in your dentist’s chair, or can think of a million other things you’d rather be doing, the bottomline is that our understanding of the many ways that regular dental care can benefit us continues to expand. If you’ve been putting off getting the treatment you need due to budgetary concerns, don’t delay any longer. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.