Integrative and collaborative patient care is the future of healthcare. Optimal patient care requires providers from across specialties to work together for the benefit of their mutual patients. But training and continuing education being segregated and siloed is one of the reasons we’re in the midst of a healthcare crisis.
It is important that all healthcare professionals collectively share in the treatment of patients through improved interdisciplinary communication, care, and referral relationships.
Early detection of oral diseases through a comprehensive but concise examination of the oral cavity can lead to timely management of systemic disease and improved quality of life. Many oral manifestations are early indicators of systemic problems or an untoward response to systemic therapies.
Physicians need to talk to their patients about their oral health and dentists must talk to patients about their systemic disease. For the dentist or hygienist, this could mean looking at a patient’s periodontal disease and how it’s contributing to their patient’s diabetes, or doing blood tests chairside to check for diabetes. On the medical side, it could mean testing a patient’s oral bacteria for contributing factors to help determine why they’re feeling sick.
A first step is to expand traditional dentistry so that it includes the ability to provide effective oral health testing and risk factor reduction. Oral diseases share common risk factors with other systemic diseases, so this model should also be a collaborative partnership with physicians that leads to the inclusion of both oral and systemic treatments for patients.
It is not only important for the dental & medical communities to understand the consequences of oral inflammation, but to help patients manage it. Instructing patients about inflammatory foods like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, highly processed foods and oils, and GMO foods, just to name a few, is our responsibility as healthcare providers.
Physicians play an important role by providing a thorough oral evaluation and referral when warranted (e.g., dental treatment prior to radiation therapy for the dental-oral craniofacial region). Dentists share equally important roles in referrals to physicians when their dental patients are systemically compromised.
The integration of dental and medical healthcare is critical for people of all ages, and they will benefit if their physicians and dentists are aware of the important link between oral health and overall health.