I wish my doctor knew a dentist can treat this!
When I heard this from yet another patient today, I was determined to write a blog on this subject. Dentists have a unique “window” to look into the overall health of our patients…but I’m not sure many medical doctors know how much education we have in “their” fields of practice. As a dentist practicing comprehensive dentistry (rather than the usual “one-tooth-at-a-time” dentistry), we evaluate our new and continuing patients from a medical standpoint as well.
What do I mean by this?
Every new patient to our practice is evaluated in a number of ways not really related to their teeth or gums (which we also evaluate, of course):
1-We record blood pressures for all of our adult patients.
Why do we do this? Many patients either do not have a family physician or do not visit one for routine yearly examinations. In the past 6 months alone, we have recorded significantly high blood pressure for three previously not-diagnosed or medicated patients, who have then been examined by their doctors and placed on high blood pressure medication. Without stable blood pressure, your heart has to work too hard to pump your blood around your body, leaving you at risk for heart attack.
2- We check for signs of acid reflux.
This can be seen by looking at the palate side of the upper teeth and/or biting surfaces of the back teeth. In the past six months, we have had four patients visit their medical doctors on our recommendations and started taking medication to treat GERD (Gastric-Esophogeal Reflux Disease), and have thanked us at a later visit because they are feeling better. One patient said he started sleeping better because his constant acid reflux was not longer waking him up at night! Also, untreated GERD can predispose a patient to esophageal cancer.
3- We screen for mouthbreathing and ask questions about snoring, sleep habits, and signs of Sleep Apnea.
We have either given patients a home-monitor for sleep study, or referred several patients for standard sleep studies, and several of those patients are now either using a CPAP device at night to sleep, or considering dental appliances to treat snoring, or even surgery or orthodontic treatment to treat Sleep Apnea. Mouthbreathing is not normal (except when ill or exercising) and neither is snoring, gasping, choking, restless sleep, sleep-talking or sleep-walking…and all should be evaluated by your medical doctor. Same story goes for your children, by the way. If your sleep quality is poor, your body cannot heal itself each day, leaving you more prone to a host of serious medical problems like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Truly.
4- We evaluate overall body posture and facial asymmetry.
When we find that patients have forward head posture, this often indicates poor airway, and we suggest a visit with an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) for evaluation; poor overall body posture suggests a visit to a chiropractor and/or physiotherapist, as without proper body balance and posture, long term aches and pains and uneven strain on the spine will take its toll.
5- We ask our patients about headaches and facial muscle pain, as well as clicking and popping of the jaw joints.
While we practice “regular dentistry”, we also treat a number of patients with head and neck pain not specifically limited to their teeth, and often the bite, or the unevenness of the bite, is the cause. Using highly specific computer equipment, we can find the source of the imbalance and correct it, relieving years of pain. Many of our pain patients have been taking daily pain medications, and are able to discontinue the use of their pain pills with the treatment we provide; some of these patients have been stable and pain-free for 5 or more years! This is the type of patient we saw today…a young patient in her 20’s with varied areas of pain for several years already, with a diagnosis of a complicated form of arthritis. Over the 8 months we have been treating her, she feels that she is better and better each month, with significant pain reduction. She is the one today who told me “I wish my rheumatologist and GP doctor knew you could help me with this, because I have been suffering uneccessarily for years.”
I write letters to the medical doctors of these patients, telling them about my findings…why I’m worried about their blood pressure, bleeding gums, acid erosion of their teeth…and the open-minded ones fully examine their patients and provide the needed screening and treatment to ensure their patients stay as healthy as possible. Some have said to the faces of the patients we share “what does she know…she’s only a dentist”. True story, and I’ve heard it more than once in my almost 19 years in practice. Believe me…I don’t think I am smarter than they are…I just look at my patients from a different perspective. I want the same thing the medical doctors want…healthy patients, living a long time, as medication-free as possible. I will keep trying to work with our medical community here in Ottawa. Ask your dentist if s/he screens for the same things we do, and mention the findings to your medical doctor at your next check-up.