Some Americans don’t realize that their dental wellness checkups cover more than hygiene, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Only 25% of the respondents in a June AGD survey of 1,174 adults in the United States associate going to their general dentist with getting screened for oral cancer, and only 14% saw their general dentist as an expert in making broader connections to improving or maintaining systemic health.
“We know dental visits can feel unnecessary when patients don’t perceive anything to be wrong. This survey underscores the need for greater awareness about oral health’s relation to overall health. The condition of your mouth often mirrors the condition of the rest of your body, and maintaining a healthy body includes taking care of your oral health on a regular basis,” said AGD president Maria A. Smith, DMD.
“What makes general dentists unique is that no other health practitioner is supposed to be seen as frequently, even without any symptoms,” Smith added. “The mouth is the gateway to the entire body, and poor oral hygiene can result in or worsen cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and other illnesses. Regular dental visits, every 6 months, are a chance to establish an oral care home base, educate patients, prevent disease, and screen for other conditions.”
Multiple studies have demonstrated the connection between oral health and cardiovascular health, but the AGD reports that general dentists also may be the first line of defense against other maladies such as anorexia and bulimia, as the first signs of these disorders often are revealed in the mouth. In fact, the AGD says, many systemic diseases have oral manifestations. For example, swollen gums can be a sign of diabetes, oral cancer, or heart disease.
The AGD is working to help raise awareness that good oral health is closely linked to overall wellness. It is advocating at the local and national levels and is collaborating with its members to provide them with resources to better support their patients and communities, such as data from the survey, which also found that:
- 58% of respondents view general dentists as experts on teeth cleaning.
- 50% don’t view their general dentists as experts on prevention, while 59% don’t see their general dentists as experts on overall health.
- 24% view their general dentists as experts on the latest equipment, even though practitioners regularly update their skills and participate in continuing education opportunities.
- 30% view their general dentists as experts in teeth whitening.
- 22% don’t have a general dentist.
- Adults age 18 to 34 years are least likely to see a general dentist as an expert on a range of oral wellness topics, compared to older adults.
“Establishing a strong relationship with a primary general dentist has both health and monetary benefits,” said Smith. “AGD members report that people with a solid oral-care home base experience better overall wellness and accrue lower health costs over their lifetime.”