Oral health professionals have a crucial but not fully realized role to play in advancing and improving the overall health of the general population, according to an essay published in the Journal of Dental Education.
Noting that experts have recognized the basic connection between oral health and overall well-being for close to a century, Keith A. Mays, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., Interim Dean at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, wrote: “Approximately 100 years later, we are still having this conversation on the importance of oral health within the greater health system to help keep the population healthy.”
Dr. Mays’s commentary, “The ability of oral health professionals to significantly influence improving overall health,” was published in the January issue of JDE, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
In his essay, Dr. Mays noted that a 2000 report by then-Surgeon General David Satcher brought national attention to the fact that “dental caries was the most common childhood disease and that oral health was an integral component of good general health.” In that report, Dr. Satcher called on all health care providers to play a role in improving the nation’s oral health status.
“I would suggest that, not only should all health care providers contribute to enhancing oral health, but that oral health providers should contribute to enhancing overall health,” Dr. Mays wrote.
Dr. Mays identified several obstacles to achieving that goal, including a health care system that is often too fragmented (instead of integrated and person-centered), inadequate communication between dental health providers and the overall medical team, and financial reimbursement models that do not support oral health professional screening for chronic diseases.
“Despite these and other obstacles, we are still in a moment of significant opportunity for oral health professionals to contribute to the improvement of overall health in the population,” he wrote.
Dr. Mays is the Chair-elect of the ADEA Board of Directors and has served the Association in various capacities since 2003.