How to Collaborate with Physicians to Bridge the Oral-Systemic Gap and Provide Your Patients with Optimal Health
August 28, 2014
Welcome to the 3rd Era Blog! In case you weren't aware, I’m a physician who works closely with dental professionals to provide my patients with an optimal level of care. However, I didn’t always think of dentists and hygienists as my strongest allies in treating patients with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.
In fact, I finally connected the oral-systemic dots about 4 years ago after completing the training program for the Bale-Doneen Method, which is focused on heart attack and stroke prevention. It was there that I learned that the vulnerable soft plaque that ruptures in the arteries to cause strokes and heart attacks actually originate in the oral cavity.
I also learned that up to 85% of heart attacks and strokes occur in completely asymptomatic small plaques that would not cause a stress test to be abnormal! These are the sudden-death stories you hear about, such as the death of news commentator Tim Russert shortly after getting normal results on a traditional stress test.
This new-found insight prompted me to completely overhaul my medical practice to focus on heart attack and stroke prevention – That overhaul included working closely with dental professionals in my community!
I strongly believe that physicians need to refer to dental professionals as we do other medical specialists. In fact, if it were not for dental professionals I would not be able to offer this guarantee to my patients.
"If you suffer a heart attack or stroke while under my care, I will refund the fees you've paid in the past year."
This is a powerful pact, with great potential financial risk, because I have a direct primary care practice that instead of accepting insurance, charges an affordable monthly fee for the highly personalized level of preventative care that I provide.
Many dental professionals that I meet say that as much as they’d like to bridge the oral-systemic gap, they just can’t seem to connect with the medical professionals in their local communities. I admit it will take some effort, because this is a fairly new concept for physicians. However, here are three outreach tactics that may be helpful.
Talk to Your Personal Physician: The MD you know best is probably the one who treats you and your family. Why not schedule a lunch meeting where you can explain some of the latest findings on the oral-systemic connection and how you can collaborate on providing an optimal level of care to your respective patients.
Study History: Carefully review your patients’ health histories: Look at your current patient medical history forms to make sure they ask pertinent questions about family history, current prescriptions, etc. Update them if needed.
Connect the Dots: If your patient has signs of periodontal disease, connect the dots for them between that periodontal diagnosis and their risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, preterm labor, arthritis, etc.The, communicate your periodontal disease finding and its inherent risk with your patient’s primary care MD or specialist.
Step Up Your Screening: In recent years, several screening tools have been introduced that place dentists on the front line of systemic health. Whether it be salivary diagnostics, carotid IMT ultrasound, blood tests or other adjunct screening tools, do not be afraid of being accused of playing doctor by sharing the results with a physician when necessary. You are the oral health specialist!
These are just three suggestions of what can be done to forge relationships with physicians and bridge the oral-systemic gap in the name of establishing a new, optimal standard of patient care. It’s all part of what I call the Third Era of Healthcare, which includes the the era of empowering an individual to create personal health, not just react to disease.