March 20 is World Oral Health Day. Today on the blog, a public health dentist explains why oral health is a crucial part of overall good health. By Dwayne Turner, DDS, MBA
Like most dentists, I feel strongly that good preventive care must include good oral health care. As the Dental Health Services manager at the DeKalb County Board of Health in metro Atlanta, I know that preventing oral health problems is critical to overall good health. Without early detection and treatment, oral diseases can worsen other diseases and conditions and, likewise, other diseases and conditions can worsen oral diseases. Oral health can also serve as an early warning system for people suffering from certain conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity. Pregnant women who have gum disease are at a higher risk of having a premature birth or a low birth weight baby than pregnant women without gum disease. Serious dental issues can even result in hospitalization. In fact, from 2008 through 2012, over 250 of our county’s residents were hospitalized due to dental conditions.
Two examples of signs we often see are dry mouth and mouth lesions. Dry mouth can be an indication of diabetes or the side effect of a medication. Lesions can indicate a hormone or nutrient deficiency, a herpes or strep infection, cancer, an allergy to an oral care product, or HIV infection. Also, our dentists have seen patients with dizziness that can indicate high blood pressure, skin rashes that can be caused by bacterial infections, and even chest pains that can indicate heart trouble. So, we look beyond just a patient’s teeth to assess their general oral health and their overall health.
I’m very aware of the impact of oral health issues on our county’s residents, particularly our children. Of the almost 84,000 children our program screened from 2008 through 2012, 3% had pain, infection, or swelling and required urgent care. Another 14% had cavities or gum problems and needed prompt care. Among teenagers, in a 2015 survey, only 68% of our high school students reported that they had seen a dentist in the preceding 12 months.
Our screening efforts include onsite screenings at elementary schools and, during the summer, at places like recreation centers. The emphasis is on serving low-income students who might not otherwise see a dentist. In addition to screening, we also provide sealants and fluoride varnishes. Dental hygiene students often help at these sessions, giving them a chance to hone their skills. Over the course of a year, we reach 23,000 to 24,000 children in these settings. In our clinics, we have 4,000 to 5,000 patient visits every year, where we offer education, screening and treatment including cleanings, sealants, varnishes, fillings, extractions, and root canals.
Good oral health is crucial part of overall physical wellness. Maintaining an attractive smile can also contribute to one’s emotional wellness and self-confidence. Receiving comprehensive oral health care not only promotes good general health for a child or teen; it starts the young person on the road to a becoming a healthy adult.Dwayne Turner, DDS, MBA, is the Dental Health Services manager for the DeKalb County Board of Health based in Decatur, Georgia. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rochester, a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Howard University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from Brenau University.