Oral health and total health are so connected that diseases in the body can affect oral health and vice versa. That’s why partnerships between dentists and physicians are so important, especially in managing patients with chronic diseases. These partnerships have been shown to improve overall patient outcomes.

Patient seated in dental chair talking with a student.

A TAMBCD student reviews the health history of a patient.

“Many years ago a distinguished oral medicine specialist stated that the mouth is a veritable treasure trove of diagnostic signs and symptoms of systemic diseases and disorders,” says Dr. Terry Rees, professor of periodontics and director of the Stomatology Center at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry.

“He meant, that the presence of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes may be suggested by mouth changes and oral health, because the mouth is not separated from the rest of the body. In fact, the mouth may be more severely affected since it is constantly subjected to more traumatic irritation by microorganisms than any other site of the body.”

Serious health conditions can contribute to the onset and severity of oral diseases and mouth discomfort due to reduced salivary flow, swollen gums or mouth ulcers for example. This can adversely affect oral wound healing and periodontal therapy response, and increase the risk for tooth decay. That is why medical and dental collaboration can better ensure that the patient has the opportunity to achieve the best state of health possible.

“The presence of oral diseases can worsen the prognosis for patients with several systemic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, liver disease and others,” Rees says. “Recent evidence indicates that the severity of these diseases may be increased by inflammation in any part of the body, including the oral cavity.”

Unfortunately, patients with untreated conditions and those who don’t have a team approach to treatment from their dentist and physician are much more likely to develop more severe systemic and oral disease, says Rees, and the patient’s response to either treatment may be compromised.

Through collaboration, however, the dentist can assess the patient’s oral condition based on awareness that the systemic condition is being controlled and can properly assess the best course of dental treatment. In turn, the physician knows the patient’s medical treatment has a greater chance of success, because the risk of oral infections is reduced. The dentist may notice oral signs and symptoms that could indicate the medical treatment is less successful than anticipated and thus notify the physician that an alternate therapy may be necessary.

“Better collaboration between dentists and physicians leads to better oral and overall health for patients and can remarkably improve their life expectancy and quality of life,” Rees says.

 

— LaDawn Brock

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