Making the shift: Enhancing our impact through oral-systemic links

May 22, 2017
Sara DeNino Paone, RDH, shares details about a Canadian effort to educate medical and dental professionals about oral-systemic links.  

By Sara DeNino Paone, RDH, RNCP

On March 29, the Oral Wellness Learning Institute for Dentistry (OWL) where I serve as the educational director, had the privilege to assemble an amazing group of dental and medical practitioners and advocates. Our guests included representatives from Diabetes Canada, the CDHA, Sleep Disorders Dentistry, as well as naturopathic doctors, researchers, dentists, and dental hygienists. Sunstar, a trusted partner of OWL, graciously served as our host.

I was so grateful that such an esteemed group was ready for the message that there is a new horizon for many of our dental practices to consider embracing. A horizon made possible by embracing the science related to oral systemic links.

At OWL, we advance a perspective that an understanding of oral systemic links can serve as solid foundation by which you serve your patients.

We base our approach on two simple, but critical, insights:

  1. That there is a direct relationship between our oral and overall health
  2. That an understanding and integration of these oral systemic links has the power to transform our practices and our patients’ perspectives towards their care and health

I have practiced with these insights in mind for over two decades. As I said to the group on March 29, I can feel a shift happening in dentistry. I can see with my patients, my consulting clients, and OWL attendees, an openness to the opportunity they have to advance overall health through dental health.

I know that my patients understand the value of their dental care to their overall health by the compelling results they have experienced and their eagerness to pursue care that is beneficial to their health. I have seen dentists and entire practices inspired by the idea that they can serve as preventative healthcare hubs for their patients in ways that benefit their patients and their practices. I have seen the power of this perspective among attendees at OWL who have achieved a complete new understanding of what they can achieve as healthcare providers. And I have even seen medical practitioners enlivened to what dentistry can bring to their patients.

But today my focus is on you.

I wonder how many readers of Oral Hygiene magazine and their practices are aware that in May 2000, the US Surgeon General stated that “oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities. Oral health is integral to general health.”

I wonder how many readers realize that cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada, with costs to our healthcare system in the hundreds of millions, and that Level A evidence exists that periodontal disease is independently associated with arterial disease. I wonder how many appreciate that diabetes, which costs billions to our healthcare system annually and great distress for our patients, is also correlated with periodontal disease. For example, if 26% of a patient’s pockets are 5mm deep or greater or there are 4 or more missing teeth, patients have a higher likelihood of developing diabetes.

I meet hundreds of dental professionals through my work every year. I know that if they understood that the way they practice has the power to transform peoples’ lives, even more so that they already do, that they would leap at the opportunity.

That’s why we created OWL–to empower our attendees to step even more fully into their power and responsibility to benefit people’s lives. We teach approaches to communicate and educate our patients about the links between their oral and overall health. We outline and demonstrate the technology and diagnostic tools we use to raise awareness of oral systemic links. We provide a Preventative Oral Wellness Program to guide our patients to prevent the negative correlations that poor oral health can bring to their overall health. And we stress that the way we collaborate with allied medical professionals bears directly on our patients’ overall health.

And that’s why I’m writing to you today. Our health-care system, our patients, our colleagues in dentistry and our allied medical professional colleagues need our preventative healthcare leadership – they need your leadership.

I’m asking you to join with the group we assembled on March 29 to make the decision to expand our collective impact on society. I know from my own experience that both the journey and the destination offer tremendous rewards and gratification. If you would like to learn more about OWL please visit our website at www.owldentistry. org or email us at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: Making the Shift is reprinted with permission from Oral Hygiene Magazine of Canada.

Sara DeNino Paone, RDH, RNCP, president of Smart Dental Practices, a company dedicated to working with dental teams to advance patients’ oral and overall wellness. Sara’s 20 years experience as a dental hygienist, including the last 10 as a holistic nutritionist, has helped her develop a view that an integrated, whole-person centred approach best serves our patients. Sara is a member of the AAOSH, IONC, ODHA, CDHA, CHHO, as well as the Complete Oral Health Movement. She can be reached at www.smartdental

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