Oral Medicine: The New Standard of Care for Dental Hygienists

August 14, 2017

Can you imagine going to work on any given day and know that another life was in your hands?  Would your perception about dentistry change if we shifted from saving teeth to saving lives?  Would we be inspired to engage each patient with the objective of helping them live longer, healthier and fuller lives?

The winds of change are moving dental professionals to better understand the oral-systemic connection.  The call is coming from medicine, from public health, and from within dentistry to treat the whole patient. Periodontal disease is a major contributor and the primary cause of oral inflammation. The management of periodontal disease is a major way dentistry can contribute positively to total body wellness. We, as dental professionals are uniquely positioned to see patients more frequently and for longer appointment times than physicians. We can help guide our patients through a journey of total body health.

I have a clinical experience to share that has inspired me to become an advocate for oral medicine and total body wellness.  A long-standing patient of record arrived for a regularly scheduled recare appointment with me.  Her blood pressure was unusually high and while reviewing the medical history there were no significant changes.  After sharing that she felt exhausted and unrested frequently it was noted that her gingival tissues were inflamed, there was bleeding upon probing, and her saliva was thick and ropey.  We elected to do a non-fasting blood glucose reading on the spot to find a reading over 300.  The patient was immediately referred to a physician for a medical evaluation.  A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and hypertension was made and treatment initiated.  This grateful patient tells all of her friends that *I* saved her life.

Evidence-based science has confirmed oral pathogens can cause diabetes and diabetes can in fact bring on periodontal disease.  I have found it essential to provide patients who are experiencing an inflammatory disease the confidence that, as part of their periodontal therapy, the pathogens that move through their body are in fact eliminated systemically.

This is my new reality as a hygienist.  This is why I am passionate to get up and go to work every day!  This is what I now know:

  • Bleeding on probing means pathogens are in too great of numbers.
  • Oral pathogens move through the body doing the same damage anywhere they attach.
  • Oral pathogens raise the systemic level of inflammation.
  • Oral pathogens can be controlled but not just by polishing and traditional root planing and scaling.

Please join the movement to extend the quality of life of all those patients who trust your instincts and insights.  Dental teams can save lives and bring a deeper purpose to their careers.

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