Bridging the Perceived Gap Between Dentistry and Medicine

dentalmedicineThe lines between dental health and overall physical health continue to blur. And dentists and doctors are trying to keep up.

A recent recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) states that pediatricians should apply fluoride varnishes to baby teeth during their checkups.

“Only one in four preschool children is seeing a dentist, but most see a primary care clinician,” says Dr. Michael LeFevre, a family physician with the University of Missouri School of Medicine and chair of the USPSTF. “Primary care clinicians can play an important complementary role in helping dentists keep children’s teeth healthy.”

However, the study results are inconclusive with regards to how often primary care clinicians should apply the fluoride.

At the same time, a somewhat standard crossover procedure in the medical and dental fields is being reexamined.

Standard preparation for heart surgery dictates that any infected teeth be extracted prior to the procedure. Due to the strong connection between dental infections and endocarditis (infection of the inside wall of the heart), the extractions have always been viewed as precautionary.

But new research published last March in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery seem to show that precautionary extractions in cardiac surgery patients could actually increase the risk of “adverse outcomes”, up to and including death.

The link between diabetes and gum health prompted a University of Buffalo study (published in the Journal of the American Dental Association) on the feasibility of diabetes screening in dentists’ offices. Since about two-thirds of the U.S. population visit the dentist regularly, the study suggested their twice-annual visit might be the perfect place to perform the test.

Given the vast amounts of training necessary for any medical or dental speciality these days, no matter the field, it’s unlikely we’ll see a hybrid “doctor-dentist” position in the future. However, “whole health” clinics, where doctors and dentists work much more closely together, seem like a better idea every day.