Brighter Smiles: Integrated Health Care

Tuesday March 12, 2024

Dentistry is one of those things in life….as with most things…. that people view in different ways. Some are interested in their appearance, some are interested in their health, some both, and others none of the above. A major role of health care providers is to make patients aware of the possibilities to improve their quality of life. When our services are perceived as a commodity, expectations are often not achieved.
Dentists play a key role in screening patients for many disorders relative to nutrition and in providing appropriate referrals into the health care system. Although the importance of integrating diet and nutrition guidance into dental care has been advocated for decades by educators, it continues to be ignored except by a handful of prevention-oriented practitioners.
Many of the world’s most significant health problems are linked to poor dietary practices, including over-nutrition and under-nutrition. Nutrition plays a fundamental role in health, and dental professionals have the opportunity to be a critical link between discovery and wellness.
There is a great deal of evidence linking oral infections, including periodontal disease, nutrition and immunological response. We have clear evidence linking oral disease with adverse pregnancy outcomes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. In addition, obesity, which is an epidemic facing our country, is significantly affecting the incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and overall lifespan. We know there are direct connections between these problems and oral disease. What is the role of the dentist? Should the dentist just be a tooth fixer?
As the body of data linking systemic health conditions and oral infection grows, this expanded understanding will result in more profound discoveries. However, we know right know that the scientific bridge between oral disease and systemic health is often mediated by diet and nutrition.
The beneficiary of this profound evidence should be you, the dental patient. It should not only be the responsibility of the physician or specialized nutritionist to incorporate this information into practice; the dentist should be playing a key role.
For the most part, the dentist is the only one who examines the mouth. It used to be that the dentist only looked at the teeth and only fixed problems if they arose. Most dentists screen for periodontal, or gum, problems as well as oral cancer. The trend is to address these problems earlier than ever before. Identifying developmental issues related to facial growth during childhood, for example, is much more than prescribing orthodontics. Lives can be changed with early intervention.
People tend to have ingrained in their head that the dentist just looks at the teeth and treatment should be the same as 25 years ago. The fact of the matter is, things change and there are no two dentists who practice identically. Each individual’s philosophy of care comes from personal experience, review of literature and the type and amount of continuing education taken.
One thing we all hope is that our health care provider, dentist or physician, has our best interest in mind. There is room for improvement in the communication between all health care providers. As science continues and evidence grows, it is the responsibility of all health care providers to work towards a more integrated health care system.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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