With a national healthcare crisis looming, dentists and hygienists can help. By 2050 the U.S. CDC has projected that one in three Americans will be diabetic. Plus a recent Harvard study projected the obesity rate will average 42%. Rising disease means rising disability, doctor shortages and astronomical costs. None of us are hopeful that our government can magically turn the escalating trends downward.
Dental offices, the last bastion of the preventive visit, can help. As dentists and hygienists begin to learn how to examine patients differently, they can predict negative outcomes, preempt major disease and help facilitate heath change behavior at every age. If your practice is on the learning curve for Total Health Dentistry, you already know what a gift this opportunity is. Total Health Dentistry drives practice profitability and our ability to attract health-valuing patients. Furthermore, it develops a network of referrals from the medical community—an untapped plethora of new patients.
Have you noticed that when your physician looks in your mouth he skips past your lips to the back of your throat? Even if he scans your mouth, he doesn’t recognize the early signs of periodontal disease, caries disease, oral cancer, or occlusal disease. Dentists, on the other hand, look in the mouth with dental-trained eyes and see dental disease. Much like the physician, we see only what we expect to see.
What if we could look in the mouth with super-powered eyes and see an array of other signs—of early systemic diseases/disorders such as diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, acid reflux, food sensitivities, fungal infections, drug/alcohol dependency, multiple drug interactions/side effects, vitamin deficiencies, cancer-causing viruses or depression? The good news is that this is possible today! Many dentists and hygienists across the country are going back to school to retrain their eyes and brains.
Today the new patient exam begins with infancy—under one year of age—because one third of three year olds already have active decay and many are well on their way toward a lifetime of obstructed breathing. School-age child exams might now include a summary of growth and behavior change: home care skills/habits, posterior airway and lip closure analysis, addressing significant weight gain, diet/nutrition counsel, recognizing early signs of depression, and even a letter of information and/or advocacy to the child’s physician.
An adult new patient visit can begin with a significant dialogue, letting the patient tell his or her own story instead of relying on a written health history. The physical exam recognizes all that the head/face/mouth is telling us, relying on plethora of advanced technologies for help. A saliva diagnostic is an example of one of these advanced technologies. From a single drop of saliva, we can detect bacteria that travel to nest in blood vessels and vital organs, genetic biomarkers of periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, underlying fungal infections, and HPV—the leading cause of oral cancer. We can also monitor pre-diabetes and diabetes from a single drop of blood in fewer than five minutes, or send our patient home for a sleep study and uncover obstructions/sleep disorders the next day.
This is an exciting time for dentistry. As the public hears more about the myriad of oral-systemic links through mainstream media, the preventive dental visit is taking on new importance. Most forward-thinking dentists and hygienists are getting the itch to learn more and integrate concepts into practice and profitability. Solutions like Total Health Academy, a robust on-line learning curriculum for the entire team and exclusively distributed through Henry Schein, are available to help dentists and hygienists take the steps needed to put these concepts into practice.
Dr. Susan Maples leads a successful, insurance-independent dental practice. She brings to you preventive and restorative dental expertise, a passion for mouth-body total health, a master’s degree in business/marketing, and 30+ years of experience in private practice. She is the author of BlabberMouth!77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You to Live a Healthier, Happier, and Sexier Life, and is an internationally recognized health educator. Dr. Maples believes that helping people individually forge commitments to health can change the face of generations to come. In 2012 Dr. Maples was named one of the top 25 women in dentistry and one of the top 8 innovators (“disruptors”) in dentistry.