The mouth-body connection: How medicine and dentistry work together to achieve whole health

June 6, 2012

You probably see your dentist a couple of times a year to make sure your teeth and gums are clean and healthy. But what about the rest of your body? Many people only go to see their family physician once a year – and in reality, most visit the doctor’s office far more infrequently than that.

So what if you’re having a health problem or facing a potential illness? Without being seen by a health professional, your issue could go unnoticed until it becomes a bigger problem. But a visit to your dentist can help pinpoint health problems (and not just issues in your mouth). Not only can your dentist help maintain your oral health, he or she can help diagnose serious issues such as cardiovascular disease. At our office, we employ a useful mnemonic (HONEST AGE) to help us with diagnosis, and to get a sense of a person’s overall health and risk factors.

Hygiene: periodontal disease can lead to heart disease.

Occlusion: chewing/mastication problems or poorly fitted dentures can lead to poor
digestion.

Nutrition: poor nutrition can lead to increased body fat and other health issues.

Exercise: the level of physical and mental activity measurably affects overall health.

Stress: can cause inflammation, digestive issues, cardiovascular issues and other concerns.

Tobacco/Alcohol: increases risk of disease.

Age: risk factors go up as you get older.

Genetics: patients with family members who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer are at higher risk of getting it themselves.

Experiences: if a patient has avoided the dentist or the doctor, their risk goes up.

All of these risk factors can contribute to a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or a stroke. But regular visits to your dentist (and your doctor) can help flag problems before they become life-threatening.

A dentist can assess your overall health as part of a regular visit. And if he or she sees multiple risks, they will tell you to go see your doctor. Your dentist can also help you decrease your risk through proper oral care. When plaque is cleaned out of your mouth, for example, it reduces the plaque buildup in your blood. Plaque is also used as a useful diagnostic tool; the percentage of plaque buildup in your mouth will be the same as what’s happening in your veins. So if you’ve got significant buildup on your teeth, it’s time to
get your veins checked too.

Medicine and dentistry are interconnected, and can provide a team-based approach to health care that’s both preventative and diagnostic. However, there are currently a number of barriers to that relationship. Ontario’s health care system prevents dentists from being able to make direct referrals to specialists such as cardiologists. Now, cardiologists only see patients once there’s a problem. If dentists could refer, patients would have access to a
specialist BEFORE having a heart attack or a stroke. They could both help their patients make better choices to avoid future problems. And it would save taxpayers millions in health care costs – and save untold lives.

If you have questions about your dentist’s role as part of your overall health care team, please call us or visit our office. You can get in touch anytime at 905 637-5463 (KIND) or at info@desiredsmiles.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 

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