Fixing cavities is the least important thing we do in our practice…really!

This is what dentists have fixed for years, cavities!

This is what dentists have fixed for years, cavities!

What in the world is she talking about now? She’s a DENTIST, for goodness sakes!  Isn’t that all they DO? I know, and to be honest, that’s exactly what I thought the job description would be when I entered dental school almost 24 years ago. For sure, that’s all MY dentist did for me as a child, since I had quite the fondness for anything with sugar in it and not such a fondness for brushing my teeth. However, as the incredible changes in medicine keep coming, so do the improvements in dentistry and the responsibilities of being a dentist.

Did you know that the dentist might be the only health practitioner a patient sees in a year?

You know I’m right, because likely a majority of people reading this blog have not seen their family doctor for more than one, two, or three years. As a result, I think it’s my responsibility to screen every patient for signs of medical disease during their exams in my office. High blood pressure, shortness of breath, discolored areas on the face/ neck/lips/scalp, changes in the amount of saliva in the mouth, facial/head/neck pain, poorly-healing sores in the mouth…the list goes on.  Any of these findings can cause me to strongly recommend a visit to a family doctor to check for chronic high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, extreme side effects to medications, diabetes…that list goes on as well.

Headaches/Neck Pain/Facial Pain could be all about your mouth…

Over the years as patients have had a lot of dentistry done, or teeth removed and not replaced, or teeth have worn due to grinding or age, the bite changes.  It’s not uncommon for patient to tell me their bite is different every time they close their teeth! The muscles and nerves of the head and neck respond poorly to this unbalanced bite in some cases by causing all kinds of pain; because a family doctor doesn’t know how to evaluate the bite (just like I don’t know how to evaluate heart function), he may just tell you to take pain medication and learn to live with the pain…so WRONG! In all my years of practice, I’ve only had ONE family doctor tell a patient to see the dentist for head and neck pain…it saddens me as I meet all of the other patients I’ve successfully treated without medication for problems such as these.

Bleeding gums are NEVER normal. Period.

Just because bleeding gums are common doesn’t mean that’s normal. We have a zero-tolerance policy for this…which means if your gums bleed when we see you, we will use a variety of methods in our office to help, and recommend a variety of tools to use at home to make it stop.  Why are we so firm on this point? Bleeding gums is a sign of bacterial infection. If there is bacterial infection in your gums and you take a sip of water, you wash some of that bacteria into your gut. You chew some gum and swallow the bacteria. You breathe and the bacteria transfers to your lungs. You kiss your spouse, and…seriously.  If the foundation for your teeth (your gums) is in bad shape, no fillings I place will last regardless of how beautifully I do my job.  Bleeding gums can be fixed, despite what you may have been told in the past, it just requires effort on our part and yours.

My patients are also exhausted!

Continuing education for dentists now includes many courses about recognizing the signs and symptoms of sleep disorders such as Sleep Apnea and Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome, and this has changed the way I look at my patients as well. True, we are all overextended and working too many hours, stayed too constantly connected through our cell phones and iPads; however, some of us trying to get a good night’s sleep are unsuccessful due to undiagnosed sleep disorders. Dentists are learning how to help people like this get good quality sleep for several good reasons like memory, learning, and work performance. What we are now learning is the direct impact of poor sleep on the early onset of major diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, just to name a few. This is SO much more important than fixing a cavity in a tooth!

If it has been a while since you’ve seen your family doctor, consider at least seeing your dentist. Ask your dentist how s/he evaluates your overall health when s/he looks at your mouth, the answer may surprise you!

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!