The relationship between medical and dental professionals

Jan. 25, 2008
Symposium in New York City attempts to initiate a dialogue on the relationship between periodontal disease and systemic health.

by Jodie Heimbach, RDH

A seminar titled "From Basic Science to Clinical Practice and Policy: A Medical Dental Dialogue on the Relationship Between Periodontal Disease and Systemic Health," was presented on Jan. 18 at The New York Academy of Sciences Conference Center in New York City.

I had the good fortune to attend this symposium. It is located on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade Center. Its panoramic view of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey was breathtaking. There were expert physicians (nephrologists, pediatrician, obstetrician), public health experts, dentists (periodontists, oral medicine) who came from as far as Italy to be on on the panel. Their purpose was to increase the awareness of the link between oral and systemic health in their area of expertise.

In order for the medical and dental communities to work more closely, we must reattach the head to the body.

The format was very impressive. Physicians and dentists rarely have the opportunity to discuss the oral and systemic links. The day was divided into segments, including periodontal disease and atherosclerotic vascular disease, periodontal infections and adverse pregnancy outcomes, periodontal infections and renal disease.

Segments talked about how to provide better access to care. Should our students have more oral health education in medical schools in order to be able to diagnose and appropriately refer their patients for dental care? Is their a need for the dental and medical communities to work more closely together in patient care?

At the end of each segment, questions were proposed to the audience that were answered by voting on a remote device (game show style). The polling results were displayed and then there was a question and answer period with the speakers on that particular topic.

It was an extremely informative day, but disappointing. Even though periodontal disease, CHD, diabetes, renal disease and preterm low-weight births absolutely co-exist, there is not enough concrete evidence to state a causative effect between periodontal disease and these systemic conditions.

We can tell patients there is a link but much more research will be needed to prove that periodontal disease actually causes the previously mentioned systemic conditions. However, as health care providers, dental hygienists and dentists must preach total body health and can best start by screening for hypertension in our practices.

We need to recommend and refer (if not comfortable testing in office) for blood glucose levels and cholesterol where indicated. Physician referral should always be recommended if any systemic disease is suspected. We can and will prevent more serious illness for our patients and preserve their total body health. It is our obligation. It is my vision.

The seminar was jointly sponsored by Columbia University, The New York Academy of Sciences, and the National Periodontal Disease Coalition. Educational grants were provided by Aetna Dental, Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Johnson and Johnson Oral Health Care Products, Oral Health America, and OraPharma.

Jodie Heimbach, RDH, is a 1977 graduate of Fones School of Dental Hygiene and has been practicing clinical dental hygiene for 30 years. For the last five years, she has worked in a periodontal practice in Ocean, N.J. Jodie is involved in two dental hygiene study clubs and is active in her local CNJDHA component. Jodie has plans to educate dental professionals on the importance of working with well maintained instruments. Jodie resides in Howell, N.J., with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys reading, walking, and spending time with family and friends. Jodie helps in the care of her 89-year-old father who has Alzheimer's disease. You can contact Jodie at [email protected].