COLUMBUS, Ohio, Jul 25, 2001 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — There’s a lot to smile about when maintaining good oral health — health professionals and research scientists are determining that you may be keeping the rest of your body healthier, too. And there appears to be a stronger understanding that oral health is an important part of overall health — and that dentists and physicians are the team that helps individuals stay healthy.
From the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) to the American Dental Association and American Academy of Periodontology to the American Heart Association and others — links between oral and systemic health are being discovered.
Dr. Hans Guter, member of the Ohio Dental Association (ODA), a Circleville family dentist and chair of the ODA’s Council on Communication and Public Service, said “we have always been told that the mouth is one of the areas where we first see systemic disease.” Dental schools, Guter said, routinely teach oral pathology to students; many dental colleges, including the OSU College of Dentistry, also have within the curriculum a component of internal medicine taught by professors of the medical college.
According to Guter, the mouth is often the first window into many systemic diseases, especially when people don’t visit their physician regularly. For instance, he said, chronic and unexplained (on an oral health basis) gum problems can be early signs of diabetes in otherwise healthy children and young adults. Similarly, unexplained spontaneous bleeding may be a sign of leukemia, and frequent occurrences of yeast infections in the mouth can indicate an immuno-suppressed condition such as AIDS. Dentists may also be the first to suspect hepatitis or jaundice by seeing yellowing underneath the tongue and/or on the floor of the mouth.
Dentists, who first earn a Bachelor’s Degree, followed by four years of dental school and an additional two more if they enter a dental specialty, study systemic manifestation during dental school, and are trained to identify, culture and diagnose from oral lesions and other symptoms of the mouth. Additionally, Guter said, dental students are trained in intraoral and extraoral cancer exams, and to examine patients from the neck to the forehead — and this often identifies other illness. “A dentist may notice suspicious, basal cell carcinomas and melanomas, both in the mouth or out, before a patient sees a medical doctor,” he explained. “Every year it seems I send two or three patients for a formal medical examination based on the dental work-up and examination.”
The NIDCR states, “there is no doubt that oral health and general well- being are inextricably bound. Many conditions that plague the body are manifested in the mouth, a readily accessible vantage point from which to view the onset, progress, and management of numerous systemic diseases.” NIDCR further states that numerous studies show that people with periodontitis — commonly known as gum disease (an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth) — are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association states it is important, especially for individuals with heart disease, to “establish and maintain a healthy mouth.”
The American Academy of Periodontology advises that periodontal bacterial can have an adverse health effect on many areas of the body, and in addition to heart disease, can contribute to:
* Diabetes * Respiratory illness * Osteoporosis * Pre-term or low birth weight delivery * Stroke
The American Dental Association said that because many diseases do have oral manifestations, it is vital that patients provide their dentists with a complete medical history. Guter, citing that many patients, especially men, don’t visit a medical doctor unless they’re sick, concurred. “We do a comprehensive work-up, including taking blood pressure, of patients. It’s surprising how many people, when they fill out their paperwork, indicate that it’s been years since they’ve seen a doctor. Patients are surprised when we see things and refer them to a physician, but they are appreciative.”
A 1999 Oral Health Trend Survey of the ADA stated that the majority of dentists surveyed — nearly 80 percent — educate patients on the link between gum disease and systemic ailments. The survey also revealed that dentists might be the health care practitioner that initially identifies a potential or serious health problem in a patient.
SOURCE: Ohio Dental Association