HealthcareDentists ‘Have Important Role to Play in General Health’

Good health starts in the mouth, and dentists should have a greater role in the overall health of their patients, the Royal College of Surgeons in the UK has said, as the prestigious medical body urges the government to introduce measures to better engage dentists in various health programmes.

It has long been known that there is a strong link between oral and general health, and it’s a subject that has been intensely researched over the last number of decades. “To list a few, periodontal diseases have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, dementia, respiratory diseases and mortality, where an inflammatory pathway was depicted,” says the International Journal of Dentistry.

Now, there is a growing movement to acknowledge that medical professionals engaged in general dentistry are not only about looking after people’s teeth but can also be perfectly placed to identify potential risk factors — often before they arise. They can then be properly dealt with before a condition or disease becomes a serious problem — including such widespread issues affecting much of the world like obesity.

Oral-General Health Research

In publishing a position statement on oral health and general health at the end of April, the College’s Faculty of Dental Surgery said that oral health “is an essential part of everyone’s wellbeing” because it’s vital for everything, from eating and speaking to people’s self-confidence. Along with a number of other dental organisations, the faculty has been researching the oral-general health connection since 2017, exploring such health issues as diabetes, obesity, cancers, heart disease, sexual health and the health of older people, and it published its findings in the paper.

It includes research into diabetes, which the faculty says is a “major public health issue” and one that health authorities in the UK spend around £10 billion per year on treating the approximately 3.7 million people in the country suffering from the oftentimes debilitating disease. It says another 1 million people in the UK could have either type 1 or 2 diabetes but don’t know it as they haven’t been diagnosed yet. It also says that as obesity levels rise, so too will diabetes, as the two are firmly linked.

The faculty’s paper says there is a “recognised association” between oral disease and cardiovascular diseases and that dentists are well-placed to identify and support those at risk. Not surprisingly, dentists can also be among the first to spot mouth cancer, as they examine the teeth and gums during regular checkups of their patients’ oral health. Altogether, it means that dental professionals should really be at the forefront of people’s general health, the faculty says.

Looking Out for Problems

The dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, Professor Michael Escudier, said robust health starts in the mouth and that dentists often noticed changes in their patients’ health during routine checkups.

“Good oral health is essential for our overall wellbeing. In recent years there has been increasing evidence of the link between oral health and general health. Dentists and other members of the oral healthcare team always inspect a patient’s mouth in the course of treatment. This provides them with an opportunity to monitor, on an ongoing basis, how their patient’s health is changing,” he said.

He said that in the course of checking a patient’s oral health, dentists could also look for signs of conditions like chronic gum disease, which can be a precursor to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dentists could then offer their patients advice, based on lifestyle and dietary changes, that could improve their overall health and help to prevent such conditions as obesity and oral cancer from developing, he added.

Perhaps one day soon, you won’t need to go to your doctor for a checkup, as you’ll have it all done by visiting your dentist.

This post has been sponsored by The James Clinic

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