Integrating Oral Health

14471106513_7af0534abdThe body of research that draws connections between oral and systemic health is increasing, and more and more health professionals in every discipline are taking action. Now an interprofessional team at the New York University College of Nursing called TOSH (Teaching Oral-Systemic Health) has called for specific changes that integrate oral health into the work of all primary care providers.


To understand how this works, first we need to describe how a generalized head, or HEENT, exam works. HEENT stands for Head, Ears, Eyes, Nose, and Throat, and it is a generalized exam which will be performed by any primary physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant as part of a patient’s overall wellness examination. Last time you saw your doctor, did she look in your throat and ears? That was part of the HEENT exam, and often it’s so quick you barely knew it happened!

The changes that TOSH is calling for are to integrate and “O” into the HEENT. “O” stands for “oral assessment.” These health advocates state that the exam should include a comprehensive focus on a patient’s oral health history and an in-depth examination of patients’ gums, mucosa, palate, and teeth.

Members of TOSH believe that incorporating an oral health exam into a patient’s typical wellness assessment will broaden the net of providers out there to catch oral health problems and lower the risk of oral health problems for the sections of our community who are not regularly seen by a dentist. TOSH argues that because oral health has been shown to effect overall health, a thorough and in-depth oral health exam should be part of standard preventive care.

The oral-systemic connection

Inflammation associated with gum disease, like gingivitis or periodontitis, has been linked with cardiovascular problems such as atherosclerosis. Gum disease has also been linked to Alzheimer’s; a bacterium responsible for gum disease has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Your systemic health can also impact your oral health. Patients with diabetes are at a greater risk for periodontitis, for example. Often the medications that people take to control one aspect of their health can affect oral health too– many medications give patients “dry mouth” which places them at risk for cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

Even healthy human bodies can be at a special risk for oral health problems; healthy pregnant women, for example, are at greater risk for gingivitis due to hormonal changes. In short, knowing the connection between your oral and systemic health and monitoring the two with regular preventive care can make a critical difference!

Your Portland dentist, your health team

At Beadnell Family Dentistry, we’re part of your health team dedicated to keeping you smiling! Learn more about the oral-systemic connection at your next appointment with Dr. Beadnell, your Portland dentist.


Photo Credit: Dr.Farouk via Compfight cc

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