We all know the importance of having and keeping good health. In fact, many of us make personal goals each year to start eating better, become more active or consume less alcohol — all to better our overall health. But what if I told you that regularly brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist should be a top consideration? It’s true; thanks to years of research, we are gaining a better understanding of the crucial role your oral health can play in improving your well-being.
As a licensed dentist, I know that the health of the mouth is connected to the health of the body. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of systemic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, can be detected through oral health conditions. And harmful bacteria from certain oral diseases, like gum disease, can impact other areas of the body and weaken its immune response.
A new initiative that United Concordia Dental is supporting at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Dental Medicine, a nationally recognized full-service dental medicine residency program in Pittsburgh, will provide the opportunity for more holistic care for AHN’s dental patients. Last month, AHN Dental Medicine began using an integrated medical and dental patient management system, enabling AHN dentists’ and physicians’ to electronically access both patient medical and dental records in the same place. This is one of several initiatives that United Concordia is spearheading to drive forward medical-dental integration (MDI), an approach where dental is a part of all aspects of medical care through patient clinicians working collaboratively.
So, what does having an integrated patient management system mean? For patients, it offers the opportunity for more personalized treatment plans and early detection for chronic diseases. The dental records of an at-risk patient with swollen gums and lingering mouth infections, for example, can serve as a prompt for doctors to explore other potential health concerns, such as diabetes or heart disease. And early detection and treatment of any potential health issues will equate to better health outcomes and lower costs later on.
For dentists and physicians, integrated systems support better inter-communication and collaboration, which can provide greater insight into a patient’s overall health. Over time, the data collected from this new system will benefit both dental and medical industries by uncovering more about the connection between oral and chronic medical conditions, patient outcomes and any gaps in care or areas of improvement in the health system.
This initiative with AHN Dental Medicine is only the beginning of understanding MDI’s potential impact on improving health outcomes and access to care for people in the Pittsburgh region. As a company, United Concordia is invested in making MDI more of a reality through supporting research on the oral-systemic link and elevating its connection. We also are collaborating with leading academic and research institutions to find out more about how the health of the mouth impacts the health of the body. And, we’re piloting a program to educate nurses and other clinical staff across AHN’s 14-hospital health system on the mouth-body connection, as education — to both clinical staff and patients — is going to be key in closing the gap between medicine and dentistry.
While this effort at AHN is a step forward in achieving a holistic approach to care in Pittsburgh, there’s still more research and work to be done before the health of the mouth is treated on the same plane as the health of the body — everywhere.
It’s time for more dentists and physicians to come together to develop personalized, preventive treatment plans that support caring for the whole person. Taking a collaborative approach to medical and dental care — one where patient health information can be shared seamlessly among clinicians — will help all patients be their best.
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Roosevelt Allen, DDS, MAGD, ABGD, is chief dental officer at United Concordia Dental in Camp Hill, Pa., where he leads the dental solutions partner’s oral and overall health efforts and oversees its professional affairs, dental directors, and clinical and dental policy.