Poor Oral Health – A hidden time-bomb for your Mouth and Body!
March 20th 2016, marked a significant moment in the way we should all be looking at dental care. World Oral Health Day, launched by the FDI World Dental Federation in conjunction with Philips Sonicare was designed to focus the public’s mind on something that has become an increasingly growing passion of mine; the links between oral health and general health.
The ever-growing evidence is that poor oral health negatively influences many and varied systemic conditions showing an increase in mortality and morbidity across the board.
The suggestion of this so-called Oral-Systemic link is by no means new, I can even find ancient Greek and Arabic writings on medicine suggesting such. When I was a student in the early 1990’s the links were being explored again, but this time seriously and academically, on a hint of a possibility of a “maybe”. How far things have come for me to be writing this now to say categorically the evidence is clear that a healthy mouth is very much part and parcel of a healthy body and regular preventative dental care is critical for so many people who suffer from these associated conditions.
My former Dean of Dentistry at Newcastle Dental School, Professor Robin Seymour, was one of the first people I heard talk about the oral systemic link and he is still very much part of this growing movement today. His book “Drugs, Diseases and the Periodontium” is pretty much a universal key text in explaining how complex the gums and the periodontium (the tissues that support the teeth) are and how they interact with the body along with medicines that people take. What we now know is that they do a lot more than this and that the key is inflammation; inflammation in the gum tissue is critical in affecting tissue all over the body and how it responds in certain situations.
We also know that the gums are a barrier, leaking vital protective fluids, forming a physical barrier to pathogens entering our bodies and they may even have a critical role in generating some immune responses for us. However, when they are inflamed they are a really ineffective barrier; they tear easily and allow pathogens to enter our bloodstream. Think about this, if we were to get up in the morning and rub our eyes and they bled would we just ignore it or suggest that tomorrow if we don’t rub as hard and they don’t bleed all must be well again? So why do we do this with our gums? As a profession, I think it’s time we stopped beating around the bush on this and laid it out straight: if your gums are bleeding then that’s a sign of inflammation and it needs to be addressed. It’s a simple as that! Go and seek advice from a dentist or a dental hygienist; you could be sitting on a hidden time bomb not only for your mouth but for the rest of your body.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll try and highlight what the Oral Systemic links are, what the science behind them is and how it is changing how we view our everyday practice. I am of the opinion that we need to move away from being tooth mechanics and gum gardeners and reaffirm our position as physicians, taking a proper holistic view to patient care and being ready to offer appropriate help and guidance to anyone we see. The more we do this and involve patients in their care and make it a proper two-way interaction the more barriers we will break down and change an opinion that a trip to the dentist is something to be feared and that it is something that is inflicted upon you. We should be holistic, preventative and minimally interventional; make the most that modern technology gives us as clinicians (because believe me, the easier it is for me, the easier it is for you too!) and always take the time to discuss concerns and wishes when formulating a treatment plan.
Cost is also something that worries a lot, and yes, sometimes good dentistry comes at a price but you have to put it into perspective and look at the longer term in my opinion. Do a job once and correctly rather than 3 times poorly. I know which I would rather have. It is a proven fact that prevention is actually, in the long run, cheaper than cure and it is well documented that smaller fillings last longer. So why should we sit on things when a timely intervention is less destructive and will last the course? Something we have been working on at Dentist Direct Dubai is dental plans that help to look at the cost in a more effective way and encourage regular care. I think these are quite exciting and will no doubt mention them in the forthcoming weeks.
About the Author
Dr. Neil Mitchell is Clinical Director at Dentist Direct Dubai. As a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, he has gained breadth and depth of experience and knowledge in the UK NHS and private sector, including hospitals and general practice dentistry. He has also taught at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and he enjoys sharing knowledge with his patients along with delivering patient-centric care to the very highest standards in the industry.