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Professionals are increasingly emphasizing the importance of collaboration between their disciplines as a more effective way to treat health issues.

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Good oral health = good overall health

It seems like every other day new research is identifying health-related issues and ways we can take better care of ourselves to achieve ideal levels of physical health and well-being. The very tangible connection between oral health and overall health is also becoming clearer and the dental profession is increasingly recognizing that collaborating with other health-care professionals is an ideal way to better care for patients and help them achieve overall health goals.

This teamwork approach, called interprofessional collaboration, is one new trend. Professionals from different disciplines join forces to create a better outcome than what would have been achieved on their own. For example, your dentist would collaborate with your family doctor and other specialists to address medical issues that affect your oral health and overall health, such as diabetes, and discuss complementary therapy plans to make sure your total health is being treated. Having all your doctors communicate and work with each other provides comprehensive treatment and may even identify potential warning signs or conflicts between the different medications you may be taking.

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Establishing an understanding of this collaborative approach to patient care begins in dental school, where modernized courses will teach future dentists the best strategies for working with general health-care practitioners and medical specialists. Bridging medicine with dentistry – through seminars, conferences and journal articles – will bring about a more holistic approach to health care. The hope is that maintaining good dental health will become a fundamental part of everyone's overall health-care strategy.

Total body health

Total body health means taking a fuller and far more encompassing approach to health care by understanding how the entire body is connected and treating it as a whole for maximum effect. It's becoming more evident that dental health is directly related to physical and mental health. There have been increasing scientific and medical studies suggesting links between poor oral health and illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and dementia. People with generally poor dental health, such as neglected or missing teeth, can also suffer from low self-esteem which can deeply impact their lives socially and professionally. There's also growing research suggesting the human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of some head and neck cancers, like oropharyngeal cancer. These are just a few of the many ways that dental health and overall health are connected and can negatively impact on each other. As medical treatment continues to evolve, treating the body as a whole is expected to become the norm.

Access to dental care

From the early 20th century to today, Ontario's dentists have shown a long-held commitment to public service by providing dental health education and treatment to the public. That advocacy for preventive care continues today with the goal of bringing accessible and sustainable dental health care to everyone in the province, regardless of their age, income and location. From remote areas to small towns to big cities and everything in between, all Ontarians deserve easy access to quality dental care.

How do we do achieve this? There are several steps, starting with dental health education in schools so that children learn from an early age how to properly care for their teeth throughout their lifetime. Just as important is treating the body as a complete unit and recognizing what kind of impact the rest of the body suffers when one part is neglected. Staying committed to promoting access to optimally fluoridated drinking water is key as it's the most practical, cost-effective, equitable and safe measure to prevent tooth decay in our communities. Understanding the full health-care system picture is vital because good dental health care practices mean not only treating the obvious problem but also developing a complete preventive treatment plan, which will lessen the chances of more costly treatment later on, while also putting less of a burden on the rest of the health-care system. Finally, encouraging and growing meaningful partnerships between the dental and medical professions, public health units, dental faculties, government and non-government community agencies will go a long way to help all Ontarians enjoy healthy, happy smiles.


This content was produced by the Ontario Dental Association. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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