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Bridging the gap: 5 key strategies for integrating oral and systemic health

May 18, 2024
As dental professionals, we must seize the unique opportunity to reshape the paradigm by helping others recognize the mouth as the gateway to overall wellness. Here are five strategies to try.

Fostering evolving mindsets and prioritizing patient well—being, we play a crucial role in treating patients comprehensively, addressing every aspect of their systemic health. As guardians of oral health, we stand at the precipice of truly integrated health care, playing a crucial role in total wellness today and shaping the way dental professionals and oral healthcare will be seen going forward.

The gap between oral health care and systemic well-being has always intrigued me. Despite their undeniable connection supported by both compelling scientific evidence and practical experience, in the minds of too many there exists a distinct separation between them.

This division is evident in our patients, our practices, and the broader health-care landscape, effectively segregating the dental and medical sectors. Yet, amidst this segmentation, I perceive the profound link between oral and systemic health as a guiding light toward integrated care.

As dental professionals, we must seize the unique opportunity to reshape the paradigm by helping others recognize the mouth as the gateway to overall wellness. Our patients, increasingly attuned to an intricate network of factors, such as inflammation and gut health, turn to us for guidance. By prioritizing comprehensive oral care, we not only honor our ethical obligations but also pave the way to enhanced patient outcomes and broader practice success. Embracing this approach extends beyond oral hygiene and tooth repair; it’s about transformative changes in our patients’ lives and ushering in a new era of integrated healthcare.

Drawing from my personal experiences, in this article I’ll explore the vital role dental professionals can play in bridging the gap between oral and systemic health. Through the implementation of five key strategies, we not only elevate the standard of care in our practices but also cultivate patient relationships built on trust and wellness. Together, as a community, we can move towards a future where dentistry transcends its traditional boundaries to become a cornerstone of comprehensive health and overall well-being.

1. Attention to detail

Since the inception of my practice, conducting meticulous and comprehensive exams has been a top priority, a focus that has not only built patient trust but has also garnered respect and admiration from colleagues in both the dental and medical fields. By understanding a patient’s complete medical history, we gain valuable insights into their overall health, enabling us to provide more effective oral care while uncovering systemic links crucial to their well-being and the success of our outcomes.

The key to prioritizing links in oral and systemic health lies in the attention to details we learn at the initial consultation through a thorough history and physical exam. Understanding a patient’s oral diagnosis necessitates a comprehension of their overall health. Neglecting this vital step not only undermines patient care but also risks adverse outcomes. Investing time upfront to thoroughly understand each patient ensures smoother treatment processes and more predictable results

2. Diverse expertise, unified care

Gathering a diverse team of practitioners with varying skillsets, experiences, and training is paramount to delivering optimal care. In our practice, assembling a team of professionals with complementary skills and unique specializations has been a core objective since our inception. This strategic approach empowers us to explore patient diagnoses extensively, delivering tailored and comprehensive care.

With fellowship-trained subspecialists in areas such as craniofacial surgery, cleft lip and palate, jaw surgery, TMJ disorders, facial cosmetic surgery, and ablative and microvascular reconstruction for oral, head and neck traumas, and cancers, our team is equipped to assess the entirety of a patient’s health and deliver targeted treatments.

By harnessing the collective expertise of diverse practitioners, we ensure that each patient receives the highest standard of care, encompassing both oral and systemic wellness. This unified care approach and profound understanding enable a more thorough method of managing patients, particularly those dealing with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders.

3. Innovation integration

Now more than ever, staying at the forefront of clinical and scientific innovation within the health-care sector is non-negotiable. In recent years, the unpredictable nature of events has underscored the need to continuously evolve to better serve our patients. From navigating the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to embracing cutting-edge technologies and methodologies, our commitment to leading the way has enabled us to not only adapt but lead and thrive during challenging times. By prioritizing innovation, we maintain the trust of our patients and seamlessly collaborate with our dental and medical colleagues to ensure total care and a team approach to systemic health.

4. Dream team

Through seamless coordination among our offices and staff, we implement a team approach to patient treatment, prioritizing the intricate connection between oral care and systemic health. Each team member plays a crucial role: from the front office staff compiling medical histories to surgical assistants supporting surgeons, every individual works together to thoroughly understand the patient’s concerns and overall well-being. With multiple perspectives converging toward a unified objective—the patient’s overall health—we can comprehensively diagnose and treat accordingly, guiding them towards optimal outcomes and improved well-being.

5. Partnerships with medical peers

Despite historical divides or common misconceptions that we operate in isolation from one another, fostering working relationships with our medical peers is paramount for achieving success in oral systemic health diagnosis and practice. By actively nurturing these partnerships, we enhance our ability to identify health issues extending beyond the oral cavity, leveraging peer education and communication to broaden our diagnostic scope. Simply put, investing in these relationships elevates us as practitioners, enabling us to serve as invaluable resources to our patients by expanding our focus beyond oral health to encompass overall well-being.

With surgeons trained as both dentists (DMD or DDS) and medical doctors (MD) in my group, we experience firsthand how medical training serves as a cornerstone for achieving optimal patient outcomes. Just as my collaboration with a local periodontist or pediatric dentist is driven by a shared commitment to patient care, our interactions with medical doctors should also be characterized by unity and shared objectives. We operate at the forefront of health and wellness, starting in the mouth, and it is our duty to collaborate with our peers and maintain open communication to drive change in patient care and the health-care industry as a whole.

Conclusion

The fact that our industry is rapidly evolving is widely known, and as a result, our group has also undergone significant evolution. From the early days of my practice to the present day, I have consistently embraced change to enhance patient care, adapting and evolving year after year.

Dentistry transcends the treatment of individual teeth; we understand the deep link to systemic health and must practice accordingly. Patient well-being is our priority, and we must approach each case with overall wellness in mind. By embracing our education, resources, and relationships to the fullest, we commit to treating patients fully, addressing the connections of every aspect of the human form from head to toe. As an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, I am deeply committed to this cause, recognizing that we aren’t merely technicians but rather, as the guardians of oral health, we stand at the gateway to the body and hold the key to overall well-being. 

Editor's note: This article appeared in the May 2024 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.


Jason M. Auerbach, DDS, is a renowned oral and maxillofacial surgeon. He is known as an industry leader through his handle @bloodytoothguy, where he educates rising dental stars. Dr. Auerbach founded Riverside Oral Surgery in 2007, which prides itself on providing the optimal patient experience. With nine locations, Riverside is the premier full-scope group in New Jersey and the official practice of the New Jersey Devils. His newest venture, MAX Surgical Specialty Management, supports 28 surgeons across the Northeast.

About the Author

Jason M. Auerbach, DDS

Jason M. Auerbach, DDS, is a renowned oral and maxillofacial surgeon. He is known as an industry leader through his handle @bloodytoothguy (190K followers), where he educates rising dental stars. Dr. Auerbach founded Riverside Oral Surgery in 2007, which prides itself on providing the optimal patient experience. With 9 locations, this is the premier full-scope group in New Jersey and the official practice of the New Jersey Devils. His newest venture MAX Surgical Specialty Management supports 28 surgeons across the Northeast.

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