Last week my dentist-slash-husband and I attended a health summit in Pasco. It was titled: Bridging the Gap between Medicine and Dentistry. For the first time one of his courses also supplied continuing education credits for me, a registered nurse, along with physicians, dentists, hygienists and mid-level providers.
The unlikely gap is bridged by something equally surprising: oral plaque. The gap refers to the fact that medicine traditionally ignores all things dental. On the other hand, dentists are very tuned in to their patient's medical histories, medications and conditions. When was the last time your doctor asked if you have bleeding gums when you brush or floss?
For 7 hours, I was on the edge of my seat, scribbling notes and citations of research. Possibly it was because this seminary was full of new knowledge. And also, because my own health required I make some changes.
We learned that there is an association between oral pathology and one's overall health. One of the speakers went so deep that I was gasping for air. Dr. Tom Nabors was also the only dentist in the line-up of 6 speakers and his subject was Metagenomics and Dysbiosis. Right. Me, too. Essentially, if I understood him right, the body's DNA reacts to the bacterial DNA that reside in us. We respond, fighting infection with inflammation in the form of white blood cells. These help us until the day when they hurt us. Inflammation that becomes chronic begins to turn ugly.
The most frightening reactions would do damage to our cardiovascular system. Now we have evidence that some infections lead to inflammation which in turn create metabolic responses and anatomical changes. The end results can be heart attacks and strokes. Dr. Nabors is asking dentists to bridge the medical gap. When dentists see patients with diseased gums they need to ask their patients to see their medical providers. They need to begin to monitor their cardiovascular status.
Yakima's Northwest University was in the line-up. Dr. Anita Showalter, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology said that the effects of oral pathology also can lead to pre-term deliveries. She said bleeding gums and missing teeth are red flags, as well as gestational diabetes.
As I process my notes and do more reading of the research, I will add to this blog. In the meantime, I have changed my tune about flossing. I realize I am married to a dentist who has both instructed and modeled to me the virtues of daily flossing. In my medically-nurtured arrogance, I ignored the sound advice. When my gums would bleed, I would floss that day. Wait a few weeks, floss again.
Since last Friday, I have flossed every day and I intend to do so from now on. I have enough cardiovascular warning signs already -- and this is one that I can do something about. As Showalter said, "some risks can be minimized by modifying behavior."