If your leg is broken, you’re going to make an appointment to see the doctor and you understand perfectly well why: your leg hurts! If you can’t read the PowerPoint presentation at your company’s annual meeting from the front row, you’re going to make an appointment to see the doctor and you understand perfectly well why: you need glasses! Every six months when your dental patients receive their “reminder postcards,” they’re probably going to make an appointment to see you…but do they understand why?
When you’re plagued by a daily ache or pain it’s easy to recognize the need for professional healthcare, but when it comes to preventative oral care the connection can be a bit more intangible. It’s important to help patients understand the “why” behind their regular check-ups so that their devotion to oral care deepens. The following two “reasons to care” will strengthen understanding, patient commitment, and ultimately, well, TEETH!
1. ORAL HEALTH IS CONNECTED TO OVERALL HEALTH
If patients believe that the only reason to schedule regular dental appointments is to have an aesthetically pleasing smile and agreeable breath, they’re missing out on the bigger picture. Oral systemic health, the idea that the health of one’s mouth is directly connected to the health of one’s whole body, is a notion supported by countless recent studies. Research by the Mayo Clinic names Osteoporosis, Cardiovascular Disease, Alzheimer’s, and Diabetes, among the serious conditions linked to oral health, and EverydayHealth.com cites additional research that adds pregnancy complications, Pneumonia, and Pancreatic Cancer to this list.
A striking study conducted by the CDC and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) examined data from 37,000 people over a 40+ year time period, and found that “adults with diabetes had about twice the tooth loss as those without diabetes.” [Source]
Besides these afflictions, another area of focus for oral systemic researchers is the relationship between oral health and one’s diet. Here again, the association is direct. According to Doctor Teresa Marshall, registered dietitian and professor of Preventative Dentistry at the University of Iowa, “diet may impact caries risk, soft tissue health, and responses to injury and infection. Nutrients contained within foods are essential for growth, maintaining tissue health, repairing injured tissue, and providing energy for daily activities.” [Source] What sorts of foods might be considered low risk, versus moderate risk or high risk? ChooseMyPlate, an initiative operated by the USDA, put together a helpful diagram which outlines just that:
2. NEGLECTING PREVENTATIVE ORAL CARE LEADS TO GUM DISEASE
If patients neglect regular professional cleanings, they are subject to a spectrum of gum disease in the immediate future as well as long-term. The mildest form of gum disease, Gingivitis, is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily. If left untreated, however, Gingivitis can advance to Periodontitis, which is characterized by the destruction of the tissue and bone that supports teeth. [Source] Chronic Periodontitis is most prevalent in adults, but it can occur at any age – all the more reason to strengthen patient understanding at a young age.
Stressing that taking care of their mouths will save them from pain, expensive procedures, and dentures in the future, is an attention-grabbing way to start this important conversation! Healthy gums are necessary in order to keep teeth in place, and if that’s not enough of a motivator, there’s always the aforementioned research linking gum disease to coronary artery disease, clogged arteries, Diabetes, and more.
ONCE PATIENTS UNDERSTAND “WHY,” WHAT SHOULD THEY DO?
The intent of sharing the risk of periodontal disease and stressing the oral systemic link isn’t to terrify patients into coming to see you regularly, but should your customers be receptive to these explanations and imbued with a reinvigorated commitment to oral care, they may ask you what to do next! The answer is to apply a two-fold combination of in office care and at home care.
- Encourage them to visit the dentist every 6 months for regular cleanings, X-Rays, and exams.
- When patients have all of their permanent posterior teeth, recommend that they get sealants in order to protect teeth from cavities.
- Explain that dental hygienists do much more than perform cleanings. Professionals are in a unique position to be able to help patients improve the health of their mouths by assessing and informing their customers of nutrition-related risks (and even providing dietary counseling!), along with offering additional tips, tricks, and recommendations.
The best dental care doesn’t stop at the doors of your practice, but rather continues on a daily basis throughout the year in a patient’s home.
- Provide patients with high quality take-home products like this manual bundle from Crest and Oral-B, or for individuals with high risk of gum disease, this Gingivitis power bundle.
- Remind them of the importance of regular flossing to prevent cavities from forming between their teeth.
- Suggest that they eat a healthy diet and try to choose drinks with less sugar, to keep their teeth and bodies strong.
For dental professionals and patients alike who may be interested in taking a deeper dive into any of the research and recommendations above, here are some additional resources!
- CLICK HERE to be directed to Patterson Dental’s new webpage on Preventative dentistry.
- CLICK HERE to be directed to a Dimensions of Dental Hygiene article about the impact of diet and nutrition on oral health.
- CLICK HERE to be directed to Perio.org’s online resource about the different types of gum disease.
- CLICK HERE to be directed to the results of the NHANES studies on Diabetes and tooth loss.
- CLICK HERE to be directed to EverydayHealth’s piece on dental health’s relation to overall health.
If you can help patients understand the “why” behind regular dentist visits, not only will their understanding of the connection between oral health and total body health be deepened, so too will their connection with you and your practice!