“When was the last time you visited the dentist?” “Do you floss regularly?” These two questions are an essential part of my dental history repertoire that I ask all my patients. However, this time I was not the one asking the questions, I was the one answering the questions. Earlier last year I switched my primary care physician (PCP) and was inspired by her interest in my oral health. As a dentist we often find ourselves contacting physicians for medical clearance for our medically compromised patients. We often forget that physicians and other non-dental healthcare providers can also play a vital role in promoting oral health.
I asked my PCP if she asked these questions because I was a dental student, she laughed openly. She said that these questions have been a standard in her initial medical history since she finished her residency. As a graduate of a medical school that has an affiliated dental school, the systemic manifestations of dental diseases were emphasized in her curriculum. She mentioned that her cardiologist colleagues often obtain dental consults prior to open-heart surgery procedures. The reason being active periodontal disease could potentially cause postsurgical complications.
According to a 2008 journal article from American Family Physicians “90% of physicians support the incorporation of oral health interventions into wellness visits, but 40% report receiving no medical school or residency training in oral health.” In an effort to increase the knowledge base of family medicine physicians, oral health education is now a required component of their training since 2006. In 2004 the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine Group on Oral Health developed the innovative Smiles for Life curriculum. This curriculum is the primary oral health curriculum for the majority of our nations family medicine residency programs and is also being utilized by nurses, physician assistants and midwives. As a part of our “Patient II: Team-based Oral Diagnosis” course we were required to complete 4/7 modules of the Smiles for Life curriculum. I found the modules to be very comprehensive and an excellent resource for non-dental health care providers to build their working knowledge base of oral health issues.
Oral health and systemic health are intrinsically related. Furthermore, oral health can serve as a window to our systemic health. Going forward, I hope that the relationship between dentists and non-dental health care providers is strengthened. This will not only improve the quality of patient care provided but also broadened our scope of practice.
What role do you believe non-dental health care providers play in promoting oral health? Have you had similar experiences with your physician?
~ Sarah Khan, Stony Brook ’16, associate, Council on Professional Issues