Q: Why does the dentist need to know my medical history and what medications I am taking? I don’t see how this has anything to do with getting my teeth cleaned.
The Intimate Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health
As the old song goes, the neck bone is connected to the…
Many people are also still surprised to learn just how much oral health is related to overall health. Many medical conditions and medications can have a significant impact on the health of your mouth, teeth and gums. The body systems are connected and the health of one is critical to all. Additionally, just as infections can spread from the mouth throughout the entire body system, so too can the signs of disease show up in the oral cavity first.
When we are cleaning your teeth, we are also examining your mouth and the structures in it, looking at it’s overall health and any signs of abnormalities. Because some systemic conditions of the body and your dental health are closely related, there can be a significant impact on the health of your mouth. Likewise, dentistry can affect the health of your entire body.
Doctor vs Dentist
People still tend to view the mouth separately from the body, and similarly, dentistry an inferior scope of practice than medicine. While it is true that in dentistry the focus is more narrowly concentrated to the head and neck, it goes without saying that the northern region of the body is a pretty important part of the body.
There’s a saying that general medical doctors know a little about a lot while dental doctors know a lot about a little. Certainly, as a practitioner advances in their careers, taking on additional areas of study and practice, the depth and breath of their knowledge, experience, and skills increases. Each type of doctor brings to the patient different skill sets, scope of practice and levels of education.
One could not expect a cardiologist to perform oral surgery nor a dentist to manipulate the skeleton as a chiropractor does. Likewise, although an endodontist (root canal specialist) is educated as a dentist before continuing their studies in a more specific field of dentistry – with it’s own unique set of procedures – one would not expect them continue to know how to perform the treatment procedures of a general dental practitioner.
So, there is no us versus them. We work as a team of providers, in partner with you, to deliver healthcare. Just as a we may refer a patient to a chiropractor or pain clinic for a jaw assessment, a primary physician may ask a dentist to exam an area of concern in the mouth or we may consult with one another to co-ordinate or modify treatment, medication or other therapies.
The Window of Life
We often hear that the eyes are the window to your soul, but your mouth can offer an informative view of what’s going on elsewhere in the body. Red, puffy and bleeding gums, sore mouth tissues, ulcers, infections, dry mouth and tooth decay can all be signs of systemic conditions that you may or may not be aware of and your mouth can be altered by the medications you are taking.
It is not uncommon for your dentist to detect diseases first. In fact, *oral cancer is often found to be at a lower stage of cancer and subsequent treatment be initiated quicker when discovered by a dental care provider. We know that early diagnosis is the key to the successful treatment of most diseases. We have literally saved lives with early detection!
We routinely advise patients to see their physician to follow up on something that was noticed during an exam so that appropriate treatment can begin sooner than later.
Putting the Pieces Together
Sometimes, it’s like solving a puzzle as we try to determine the reason for a change of health in your mouth. Certain diseases can make current oral health problems even more severe which can exasperate our efforts to get control of and repair a dental issue.
The treatment that the dentist may recommend is dependent on many factors, not the least of which is your current health status. Procedures may have to be delayed or modified for some conditions such as pregnancy, high blood pressure, artificial heart valves, joint replacements or allergies.
It is with your overall health in mind that we ask questions about your “specific to you” medical health. In doing so, we hope to identify and offer ways to improve your dental health.
Other important considerations
Questions – If, for example, we see a sudden higher incidence of tooth decay in your mouth, we will begin to ask questions about any change in diet or medications that can have an impact on your mouth’s ability to self-repair. Our line of questioning is designed to determine the reason for the nature and extent of your dental problem then decide the best course of action.
Interactions – We will want to make sure that any medications we may prescribe you will not interact with any of the medications you are currently taking.
Emergencies – In the event of an emergency, knowing what medications you are currently taking can be vital to your health when we are determining our next course of treatment or prescribing other medications.
Updates – We always like to have updated medical information for each of our patients. Always ensure that you inform your dentist of any changes in your health status or in the medications you are taking.
Medication List – Keeping an updated copy of your medications at all times will make it easier to share the information with other healthcare providers.
*Prosthetic Joint Replacements and Heart Stent – If you have had a body part replaced, such as a shoulder, hip, heart valve or knee, or a heart stent placed, you will be advised to take what’s called a prophylactic (preventative) antibiotic before dental cleanings and other procedures. It is for the protection of the surgery site from infection that your surgeon will make this recommendation. They will also advise you as to how long this protocol will continue and the type of antibiotic you will need. *It is very important that you inform your dental care provider if this pertains to you. It could be a matter of life a death!
Finally, we are a vital member of your Healthcare Team aiming to provide you and your family with safe dental care and practical advice. Taking care of your oral health is an important investment in your overall health. Never hesitate to call us in advance with your healthcare concerns and questions.
Yours in Better Health,
The Your Smile Dental Care Team