Home Issues2023 OSH Issue Improve Overall Patient Health with the Oral Systemic Movement

Improve Overall Patient Health with the Oral Systemic Movement

by Douglas Thompson

Dentists are saving people's lives

I used to think it was hokey to say that – but it’s true. We’re learning more every day about how oral conditions affect systemic health. As the oral systemic movement grows in dentistry, dentists are changing, and even saving, people’s lives.

Why should you follow the oral systemic movement and incorporate the teachings into your

• It’s unique: Marketing your practice as one focused on integrative oral health will
differentiate your business from others.
• It’s relevant: There are plenty of opportunities to help patients get well and stay well.
• It’s true: The connection between oral health and overall health is well-founded, and
we’re learning more every day.

Whether you’re a young dentist looking to differentiate your new practice or a veteran looking
for new ways to serve your patients, incorporating wellness into your practice philosophy will better help you serve your community.

Differentiating your practice through wellness

Having a wellness approach to your dental practice builds value, loyalty and stickiness. There are 57 diseases being researched in conjunction with oral health so there’s a plethora of opportunities for discussion and research.

Patients are expecting you to understand and share this type of information. For better or worse, there’s tons of health information available online informing patients that there is a connection between their oral health and other conditions. If there’s no conversation or anything in your office suggesting that you’re thinking about how oral health is related to overall health, patients will think you’re behind on the research. You have a responsibility to have these discussions with your patients to benefit their health.

If I could do only one thing to integrate the oral systemic movement into my practice, I’d place Beat the Heart Attack Gene by Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen on my windowsill. Why? Patients will see it, ask why it’s there and just like that we’re having a conversation about oral health and overall health. Your patients will appreciate that you’re tracking the research and care about this issue.

Integrating the oral systemic movement into your practice

First, get your team together to find out how they feel about the oral systemic movement. If there is interest, get your staff trained at least to the point that they feel comfortable having soft conversations with patients. If there isn’t, begin familiarizing them with the idea and why you want to share the information with patients.

One place where you can get started is with your periodontal disease protocols. There is new
technology that allows us to measure a patient’s biofilm and how susceptible they are to its
growth. Several companies now offer a simple 30 second swish and spit test that uses the DNA
addresses from bacteria, yeast and viruses and their presence and concentration be identified in the sample. Based on the results of the report, it allows you to personalize and tailor a unique plan for each patient with targeted therapy. This allows a personalized approach using a consistent measurable that can be tracked over time. Patients really appreciate this approach.

In addition, the education value is high, and it helps patients better understand their oral health and how to maintain a healthy mouth. Patients also learn that everyone reacts differently to a bacterial challenge. Some will have abundant inflammation and gum bleeding and others will have less. This is due to everyone’s unique immune response to the bacterial challenge. This is important information to share with them because often their condition is not their fault. Learning this brings them relief from the guilt of having a chronic disease and hope knowing we can stabilize the disease process with treatment.

While an estimated 50% of the population have periodontal disease, periodontal treatment codes in the typical practice only comprise 5% of recorded hygiene treatment. This is a high estimate. What this means is the disease is being under treated in our practices. To address this issue, dentists need a strong periodontal policy in their practice. Dentists also need to coach and support their hygienists – or as I call them “periodontal therapists” – in talking about, identifying, and treating periodontal disease. I am here to help anyone approach patient care in a
more comprehensive manner.

Education is key to incorporating oral systemic health into your practice. Many professional development continuums are offering courses in wellness that will allow your team to stay updated on the latest developments. The Kois Center in Seattle, Washington is a place where I teach, and the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health is a great place to rub shoulders with like-minded practitioners and a solid resource for getting started.

Getting buy-in from patients

Sometimes we’re hesitant to mention services that insurance doesn’t always cover, like periodontal treatment. Our primary conversation needs to be about how treatment will benefit their health, and not the cost. Shift the conversation from saying, “We need to do more for your teeth,” to, “We need to do more for your health.”

Create a periodontal program within your practice featuring strong diagnostics, a diagnosis, and then a consultation. Periodontal disease is a medical condition with a dental solution. It is necessary to become comfortable talking to patients about treating periodontal disease early and why it’s imperative for their health.

Once patients feel their oral health getting better and enjoying positive results, they’re much more likely to be loyal, recurring patients. They’ll have greater trust in you as a dentist and return for future dental needs. This will also translate to telling their friends and family to go see you, bringing in more business.

Collaborating with physicians and other specialists

I don’t mean to be crude, but the truth of the digestive system is that it starts and ends with two holes in our body and we’re working on the mouth end. If there is a dysbiosis in the mouth, chances are there are pathogenic trails throughout the digestive system and the patient has gut issues as well.

Ideally, we could treat the entire issue at once. A dysbiosis in the mouth could mean a gut issue, but it could also mean a sinus issue. Having a good system in place for evaluating these issues and working collaboratively with physicians will help patients treat the root problem. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Though we’re both committed to the health of our patients, getting a physician on the phone and having a conversation can be tricky. As with patient relationships, we need to begin by building trust.

Personally, I started with short phone calls to physicians about patient cases, asking about current medications and any medical conditions that might interfere with treatment. Patients often neglect to share their full medical history because they’re not sure how it’s relevant to their dentist. Physicians who got to know me began referring cases to me for things like sleep apnea and elevated biomarkers of systemic or vascular inflammation. Over the years our relationships grew more solid, and physicians are now sending me harder cardiovascular cases because they understand the relationship. Not only are we comprehensively treating the patient together, but my practice has many new patients coming in the door.

Incorporating wellness into your practice builds value, builds loyalty – and yes, it even saves lives.

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