We of course know our mouths are integral to well-being: it’s the place through which we take nourishment. Yet many dentists and the public don’t make the connection between good oral health and overall health. Over the last 15 years, a body of evidence has grown showing a causal connection between gum infections and everything from cardiovascular disease to pregnancy outcomes.
According to Dr. Dan Sindelar, founder of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health, ground-breaking research published recently in the American Heart Association journal concluded that as many as half of heart attacks are being “triggered by oral pathogens.”
Shockingly, 93% of people with diabetes also have periodontal disease. On the positive side, good periodontal health clinically reduces stroke risk.
So, how do we talk about the systemic link? Here are some tips for productively having this conversation in your office.
*Co-therapy is Key:
Clear communication between dentists and hygienists about treatment protocols is an essential first step. The clinical team should collaboratively decide how the office handles various clinical situations: e.g. “4’s with bleeding merits one session of site specific laser therapy;” or “2 or more 5’s merits referral to a specialist.”
*Check the gum pockets, EVERY time: Measuring the depth of gum pockets at every hygiene appointment has multiple benefits. It gives you a baseline for that person and both the hygienist and patient can monitor progress. Patients love to celebrate positive progress! Many offices offer to email patients their periodontal chart so patients have a visual reminder of which teeth need extra attention while flossing and brushing.
*Bleeding is never a good sign: When measuring gum pockets, hygienists should explicitly tell patients that bleeding gums during brushing, flossing or rinsing is an early indicator of gum disease and should never be ignored.
*Update health histories: Every time patients see a clinician, they should be asked whether there have been changes in health. If a patient says they’ve recently seen their cardiologist, or gotten diagnosed with diabetes, that’s your opening to speak about the systemic link, and an indicator that your office might need to confer with the patient’s MD.
Wellness lifestyle patients like to have the research, so be sure your front desk and hygiene teams have ready access to on-line links
to articles about the systemic link that are shared with every patient showing signs of periodontal disease.
*Tell them again, and again: Many of you use social media and have an e-newsletter. Plan to include something about the systemic link at least once a quarter.
*Connect with Cardiologists: Talk about business development! Arrange to periodically take a local cardiologist to lunch and come armed with the research about the systemic link. Be sure to give them cards for your dental practice that their front office team can routinely provide to their patients.
Remember: “Periodontal disease is a medical condition of the mouth that physicians cannot treat.” Charles Whitney, MD But dentists can!