Over the last 30 years or so, the use of alternative/complementary medical therapies has become more widespread in the U.S. Now allopathic (traditional) practices are taking a more holistic approach to healthcare and the trend is continuing to generate more avenues of opportunity.
In addition, as we learn ever more about how the human body works, it’s become clearer to the traditional medical profession that many important clues to one’s health can be gotten from the oral cavity and, thus, it is of increasing importance for physicians and dentists to work together for the well-being of their patients.
In 2010, three professionals founded the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH) to bring together professionals from many allied health disciplines. Since that time, the Academy—which also produces a monthly newsletter and webinars—has grown: over 400 professionals participated in its 2013 annual meeting that featured over 27 presentations.
The medical-dental connection continues to build momentum. A recent study, funded by the American Dental Association, reports that as many as 27 million people visit a dentist but not a physician in a given year. The report estimates that, if dentists were to screen these patients for diabetes, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, the American healthcare system could save as much as $102.6 million annually.
Here are some of the other health links between the two disciplines:
- Tooth decay can be a sign of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
- Oral appliances can often replace CPAPs for mild-to-moderate sleep apnea*. Dentists should ask all patients if snoring affects their (or their partner’s) sleep.
- There is a link between periodontal disease and a number of other conditions including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, respiratory diseases and some cancers.
- Dry mouth caused by some medications—both prescription and over-the-counter—can lead to yeast infections and make dentures uncomfortable or slip.
- Osteonecrosis of the jaw can be a side effect of bisphosphonates (taken to prevent bone loss).
With so many modern advancements and high-end technologies, we are, in a way, coming full circle to the way Hippocrates envisioned medicine to be practiced: using the concept of the Four Humors, he believed “the human body functions as one unified organism, or physis, and must be treated, in health and disease, as one coherent, integrated whole—treat the patient, not just the disease.”
As the diagnostic and restorative tools available to dental technology become ever more sophisticated, so too do the ways in which we, as an industry, need to think about how to position ourselves for a future that delivers a more integrated road map for optimum patient care.
* The field of sleep medicine, established in the middle of the 20th century, is an example of a specialty that has grown exponentially and proven to be a literal lifesaver. The first sleep clinics were established in the 1970s; this is also the decade in which the Academy of Sleep Medicine was founded.
However, the field burgeoned when obstructive sleep apnea was fully recognized as a potentially life-threatening but treatable condition. The American Sleep Apnea Association was founded in 1990 and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, in 1991. During the following decade, additional associations and governing boards continued to form to address this relatively new and lucrative sub-specialty of sleep-disordered breathing/sleep apnea disorders.
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