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Oral-Systemic Link: 6 Life-Changing Maladies Dentists Can Help Prevent

 

If you weren’t an expert in oral hygiene, you might assume that quality dental care begins and ends at the mouth.

 

In fact, the bulk of your patients might be shocked to learn that the scope of oral health scope eclipses merely having pearly whites, no cavities, and fresh breath.

 

In reality, dental professionals are guardians of their patients' overall health and wellness indicators.

 

This connection between your patients' mouths and the remainder of their mind-body is referred to as the oral-systemic link. A recent article published by Hygienetown speaks to this critical link highlighting how healthcare providers might predict and prevent potentially life-changing maladies by understanding the connection.

 

The specific examples discussed in the article are as follows:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
  • Acid reflux
  • Erectile dysfunction

Below, we’ll discuss and expand upon the Hygienetown article referenced above by looking at each of these health conditions.

 

Diabetes (and Prediabetes)

 

Around 150 million Americans are dealing with insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. By 2050, it’s predicted by the CDC that 33% of American adults will be diabetic.

 

Moreover, as of 2013 and 2014, about 3.0 million Canadians (8.1%) were living with diagnosed diabetes.

 

Dental professionals and other healthcare providers can play a pivotal preventative role by noticing hyperglycemia signs in the mouth. Flagging such symptoms could help stop patients from losing their eyesight, kidneys, or other limbs.

 

There's something of a chicken-and-egg relationship between uncontrolled diabetes and periodontal disease progression. Namely, these conditions both exacerbate one another, but it's hard to know which one initially exists.

 

With that said, having periodontal disease presents a massive obstacle in front of patients trying to achieve glycemic control.

 

In fact, according to one medical journal, periodontal disease is the sixth major complication of diabetes. The periodontium’s connective tissue wilts away during moderate and advanced stages when faced with this condition. This damage impacts ligaments and bone that hold teeth in place.

 

Oral Cancer

 

An interesting change has occurred throughout the years concerning the primary risk factors for oral/pharyngeal cancer. Namely, persistent HPV infection has replaced tobacco as a leading cause of these more adverse conditions.

 

Most frequently, oral cancer is located beyond the tonsillar pillars instead of on the lateral tongue or mouth floor. Meaning that a keen eye is required to spot this problem.

 

It's possible to test a single saliva droplet and detect threatening HPV strains. Provided the infection is ongoing, healthcare providers can craft and hone a personalized cancer screening approach. This heightens the chances of early detection.

 

Depression

 

A 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) on Mental Health cited 4.7% of the Canadian population aged 15-plus reporting major depression. In the US, it's believed that 14.8 million people suffer from a depressive disorder.

 

Millions of people suffer from impaired moods, thoughts, motivation, and behavioural patterns.

 

Interestingly, it's believed that hygiene care can be a crucial depression indicator. There are behavioural and biological links.

 

Biologically, the stress from depression can weaken your patients' immune systems, facilitating chronic gum inflammation. With behaviour, it comes down to people treating their bodies poorly. This could mean not brushing or flossing, but it also leads to drinking, smoking, a drug-use, all being hazardous to oral health.

 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

 

As reported by the American Sleep Apnea Association, 22 million US adults are afflicted with OSA.

 

Plus, approximately 5.4 million Canadian adults suffer from sleep apnea or are at high risk of experiencing obstructive OSA.

 

OSA's destructive nature causes an array of poor health outcomes while chipping away at your patients' quality of life.

 

Here are just a few potential outcomes resulting from this ongoing health issue:

  • Memory loss
  • Increased vehicle accident risk
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Increased atrial fibrillation risk
  • Heart attack
  • Hypertension

Dental professionals can find these risk factors in the mouth. It’s then possible to make diagnostic referrals. From there, suffering patients might be equipped with CPAP or oral appliances to improve their symptoms.

 

Acid Reflux

 

Did you know that five million Canadians experience heartburn and/or acid regurgitation once per week, at a minimum?

 

pH levels in the mouth get reduced by the stomach acid synonymous with the above issues. As dental professionals, you play your role by detecting the "silent" symptoms. Thus, you can catch the problem before there's a mucosal change (e.g., acid reflux or heartburn).

 

In turn, you might proactively prevent a patient from developing Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.

 

Erectile Dysfunction

 

The vascular endothelium is the blood vessels' inner wall. Its integrity experiences severe damage at the hands of chronic inflammation from periodontal disease.

 

This seems to play a role in reducing penile rigidity, according to multiple studies.

 

Here’s an alarming statistic: one report determined that men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction were almost 80% likelier to have chronic periodontal disease compared to men without erectile dysfunction.

 

In general, men struggle with preventative care, avoiding the dentist until a health issue rears its ugly head. Furthermore, they don't tend to brush and floss twice a day.

 

The role of a dentist goes far beyond what goes on in somebody’s mouths. Fully grasping the oral-systemic link will help you play a pivotal role in your patients’ long-term health and wellness!

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