10:07 AM

Changing the Conversation about Oral Health

For almost 200 years, U.S. medical and dental training have been separated—medical school and dental school. Many point to this separation as a reason why today’s health care system treats oral health as separate from the rest of the body. However, over the years, research and experience have shown that oral health is in fact closely linked to overall health. Its for this important reason that we need to change the national conversation about oral health.  

The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement has worked with the Frameworks Institute to perform national research on best practices to reframe oral health conversations so policy makers, providers, patients, and the general public understand the importance of oral health.   

This research is embedded in our Preventistry approach, which addresses the need for improved medical-dental integration.  

Some examples of what experts have learned: 

  • Gum disease is associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke and can also make it harder for people with diabetes to manage insulin levels.  

  • Women with advanced gum disease are more likely to give birth to an underweight or preterm baby.  

  • If not treated early, caries and tooth decay can lead to headaches and earaches, sinus infections, ear infections, swollen cheeks and fever, which in some extreme cases can spread to the brain and blood, even causing death.   

Because these mouth-body connections are missing from public discourse, the conversation about oral health must provide images, examples, and explanations that connect oral health to overall health – not just the teeth or your smile.  

Health equity is another important issue to include in the national conversation about oral health. 

Social and economic disparities exist and are perpetuated within our current system. Namely, barriers to access like distance to a dentist and the ability to leave work for care mean people suffer until their breaking point.  

Children in pain or discomfort can become irritable and misbehave, making success at school a challenge for them and their classmates. For adults, oral pain can mean missed days of work and loss of income. Broken teeth, bleeding gums and similar issues can also make people self-conscious, affect relationships or make finding employment a challenge. Given these factors, we need to frame oral health disparities as social justice issues and emphasize the need for an oral health system where everyone has the same opportunity the achieve lasting oral health.  

Our Preventistry approach is based on the idea that by talking differently about oral health, we can help tell a more accurate and effective story.  

We can change the conversation from being just about the teeth and cosmetic issues and instead talk holistically about the mouth as part of the body—and oral health as an important factor to keeping people healthy.  

We can increase understanding of oral health barriers and what these barriers mean to peoples’ lives.  

We can unlock doors by creating solutions that promote greater access as well as more interconnected and affordable care – ostensibly the keys to improving oral health.