When you think of staying healthy, chances are proper nutrition, regular exercise, and annual checkups with our physician spring to mind. But what of your dental health? It’s more important than you think and the medical establishment is now pushing the importance of oral systemic health more than ever.
“Oral systemic health is the connection between oral health and overall health,” notes the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH) in recent findings. “Countless studies have demonstrated a link between poor oral health and systemic disease.”
These risks are real. The AAOSH notes on its website that 80% of Americans over 35 have some form of gum disease. It’s directly linked with blood vessel disease, heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s Disease, and many forms of cancer. A staggering 95% of Americans with Diabetes also have Periodontal Disease and gum disease and tooth loss increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. For women of childbearing years, those with gum disease are seven times more likely to have a baby born at low birth weight.
Furthermore, the American Dental Association also details the increased risks, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There is a significant overlap between risk factors seen to increase risk of periodontal disease and heart disease,” said the CDC in a January 28 statement.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and there are simple preventative measures each person can take to better improve oral systemic health. The first step is getting regular dental screenings. In the past, it was common to see the dentist maybe once a year, but experts are now recommending twice annually. Speaking with both Rushford Dental Clinic and Spring Valley Dental, both are quick to note that the care is specific to the patient and routine care is dependant on several factors. Screening recommendations are now, on average, every three to six months.
“We’re making it a case by case basis. We focus so much more on their medical conditions and for some, it’s requiring them to be seen every three months. The general population is coming in every six months to keep on top of things,” says Spring Valley Dental staff. “We focus more on coming in for prevention and less on just coming in for problems. A healthier mouth equals a healthier body. It’s taken a long time and still taking time to get people to think that.”
It’s also likely going to the dentist annually might be the only medical screening some patients are receiving. “There are so many more limitations now. People are more aware, but they still have limitations. Just coming to the dentist and not regular doctor, it might be their only screening and many medical problems present in mouth first,” adds Spring Valley staff. “We do a complete intra and extra-oral check. We have a rural community that’s often exposed to the sun, so we check the ears and face for skin cancers in addition to looking for mouth cancers. We also have a habit of regular blood pressure checks. We’re finding increased inflammation and plaques in direct relation to heart disease and autoimmune diseases can present in the mouth.”
“They’re really susceptible to other diseases,” adds Rushford staff, regarding Periodontal Disease.
Increased medications, both prescription and over the counter, as well as popular supplements are also cause for concern. “They can all cause interference. I don’t think people connect the dots that your mouth is connected to the rest of the body,” says Spring Valley staff.
Dramatic increases in research and technology are continuing to not only change people’s mindsets on dental care, but the industry itself. “We’re focused not only on specific career things, but health and wellness. The staff at both clinics frequently review new research, publications in the field, and attend continuing education opportunities. “A continuing education is one of the biggest things, as are communications with each other and keeping good working relationships with others in the dental community.”
The relationship to the patient is a key point in getting people in the door for preventative screenings. “We want to make people feel as comfortable as possible,” stresses Rushford staff. The team there covers everything from complete family care to cosmetic dentistry and sedation dentistry, emergency care, crowns and bridges, dental veneers, teeth whitening, restoration for dental implants, dentures, digital x-rays and intra-oral photography.
The same items, with the exception of sedation, are available through Spring Valley. For both, general family care makes up the bulk of their practice. Coverage can be a gray area, but generally, offices offer pediatric to geriatric care. “Every dental office will have limitations. If the referral is beyond our scope, we can assist with getting care,” says Spring Valley staff. “We always start with something and can guide you into different care, if needed. We will continue to accommodate everyone, but it’s a challenge depending on what’s out there and what people want. We want to help people out there.”
Public education, getting the right information out there, can be extremely difficult with preconceived notions of what people have always believed about dental care, but clinics are trying. “There what they want to do versus what their situation allows them to do. We’re comfortable doing what we can to give the best options and opportunity,” adds Spring Valley staff. “Seeing how connected you become with your patients and how much they become connected with you is great. When they come; come in and you can really tell you’ve changed someone’s smile and they’re willing to show that smile, it’s wonderful.”